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Franchione tells players newsletter a mistake

01:41 AM CDT on Sunday, September 30, 2007

By BRIAN DAVIS / The Dallas Morning News

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Texas A&M players had an emotional meeting with coach Dennis Franchione on Friday where he apologized for approving a secret e-mail newsletter for select boosters.

Franchione's personal assistant, Mike McKenzie, said he wrote a weekly newsletter titled "VIP Connection." The e-mail described player injuries and offered tidbits about the Aggies that Franchione would not share with the public.

A small group of 12 to 15 boosters each paid $1,200 annually to subscribe over the last three seasons. Franchione said Friday he had stopped the newsletter and offered to refund money collected this season.

"Coach Fran came to us like a man and told us he made a stupid decision," running back Jorvorskie Lane said Saturday. "He knew he made a mistake, and I just respect him as a man for coming out to tell us what had happened."

The Dallas Morning News obtained several "VIP" newsletters written by McKenzie since December 2004. Most have a positive tone. One names a potential recruit, a potentially minor NCAA violation. But others talk about what plays A&M will run, the team's travel schedule and generally harmless fluff.

"I talked to the team, and I just told them sometimes you do things that turn out just exactly the opposite of what you think they should or how they're going to," Franchione said. "And I apologized to them.

"I felt really bad, and I felt bad for all the distractions they've had to put up with."

For the second time this season, quarterback Stephen McGee lashed out at the media and defended Franchione.

"To hear all the crap you guys write about him really [expletive] me off," McGee said. "He's our man, and he's our leader. He's like a second father to me. We're gonna follow him to the death, and I mean that."

Other players acknowledged the fan unrest that stemmed from the Miami loss on Sept. 20 and the turmoil created by "VIP Connection." Defensive end Chris Harrington said the Aggies are like a family and an attack on Franchione is an attack on them.

"We've got people doubting us and trying to call us out, trying to bring us down and take our season from us," Harrington said. "What it comes down to is that it's all about us."

For the $1,200 subscriber fee, boosters learned in December 2004 that offensive lineman Mark Ortmann of Klein had orally committed to Michigan instead of A&M.

School personnel are not allowed to talk about recruits in public, according to NCAA rules. The e-mail was kept private, though, so it's unclear if A&M could be subject to penalty.

"He spent his childhood in the Chicago area and has always had a thing for the Wolverines," McKenzie wrote. "He also knew that if he took that visit he was risking his offer with us, because of the numbers squeeze."

In November 2005, McKenzie informed subscribers that defensive coordinator Carl Torbush would be fired about 45 minutes before A&M officials told the media.

"In private, Fran was, as you certainly can imagine, hurting," McKenzie wrote. "Toughtest [sic] thing to do in coaching, as in any business, when you're dealing with outstanding people."

Last November, McKenzie outlined A&M's game plan prior to the Texas game. The Aggies wanted to take shots deep, use gadget plays and "hardball running plays."

"Lane on power, and then [Mike] Goodson on a zone read that goes toward a different place in the defensive set than usual [they've never seen it run this way]," McKenzie wrote.

McKenzie ended that newsletter with some positive thinking.

"Enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving Day with friends and family, and yell like crazy on Friday morning until the sun sets [literally and figuratively] on t.u.

"Be of good cheer, Mike."

A source provided The Dallas Morning News with several editions of the "VIP Connection," a secret newsletter sent to selected Texas A&M boosters over the past three seasons.

Mike McKenzie, A&M head coach Dennis Franchione's personal assistant and a part-time A&M employee, told The Dallas Morning News on Friday he actually wrote the newsletter.


December 16, 2004, 8:03 a.m.

Subject was "Signings, practice at Cotton Bowl"

Howdy. Have all your shopping done? Football fever is high around the office, even though it is extremely quiet with coaches gone the last three weeks (except weekends) and players in finals. Practice resumes now that tests are over, and we bear down on finding a way to beat a Vol.

Coach Fran and Les have been ensconced in the offensive war room every day, at length, and have watched every Tennessee game on video. The last few days they have watched every Tennessee defensive formation broken down in groups of plays, and the two of them have been choosing or designing (or sometimes redesigning) plays to enter into the play book. When the rest of the offensive staff returns tomorrow, they will all huddle up and come up with a game plan over the weekend. We'll practice through Wednesday the 22nd and break until we all meet up in Dallas at noon on the 26th.


I asked Fran about practices in Dallas. They are closed. But he invites you to attend if you are in town on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The only other persons invited are high school coaches and prospects. (Interestingly, if a junior high or high school student attends, none of the coaches can speak to him. It's an NCAA dead period.) Thursday and Friday are sealed tightly, no exceptions.

Practices will be held at SMU's stadium right off the Mockingbird and Central Expressway (Hwy 75) exit just south of downtown. I'll get the times to you later today.

You must send me an RSVP on which days you plan to be there. Your name then will be placed on a list at the gate, and the student assistants manning the gate will work strictly off of that list in terms of admitting anybody into practice. You can let me know with a reply to this message, or feel free to call me on my cell phone: 979.XXX.XXXX (edited)


The two weekends of visits went exceptionally well. Several commitments were made before they went back home. You may have heard or read about Ortmann taking Michigan . He spent his childhood in the Chicago area and has always had a thing for the Wolverines. He also knew that if he took that visit he was risking his offer with us, because of the numbers squeeze -- we have three other O-linemen committed, and fewer scholarships to offer than the limit of 25. His brother attended A&M for three years before transferring to North Texas.

Odd coincidence: fathers of two of the prospects who visited, one on each weekend, are corrections officers at prisons. One in New Jersey, at the infamous high-security prison known as Rahway. If you saw the movie a few years ago "The Hurricane," Denzel Washington played the role of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, who spent time at Rahway on a conviction of three counts of murder. Our prospect said that the worst kind of criminals get sent there and it is the highest security; he said his father has "unbelievable stories."

The other prison guard football dad is at a county prison near Muskogee, Oklahoma.


If you read or heard about the incident at Taylor Schuster's house, where a guy crashed a party and threatened a couple of our players, John Ray and Jaxson Appel, with a steak knife -- our guys were all playing dominoes at the time. They handled the situation with aplomb, running the guy off and calling the police, who made an arrest when the guy came back to the house.


That's it for now. Hope to see you in Dallas, if not sooner. Create and enjoy a wonder-filled holiday season. And please know that you are one of our great blessings in the Aggie football family.

Be of good cheer, Mike


Sent Nov. 28, 2005, 4:15 p.m.

Subject: Torbush out

In about 45 minutes, the sports information office will put out a release announcing the dismissal of Coach Carl Torbush as defensive coordinator.

Fran's comment: "After evaluating our defense, I felt like it was in the best interest of our football program to make a change at defensive coordinator. I think Carl is an outstanding person and an excellent coach, but for whatever reasons, we were not effective on defense. I have begun a national search to find a replacement."

In private, Fran was, as you certainly can imagine, hurting. Toughtest [sic] thing to do in coaching, as in any business, when you're dealing with outstanding people. "This is the same group that was third in the nation in defense three years ago," Fran said.

Coach Torbush commented for public consumption, "This is part of the business of coaching football. We didn't get the job done on defense and that was my responsibility. I commend the players for giving great effort and I appreciate the coaches who continued to work through the whole season. One thing I thought was evident was this group refused to quit."

He did not reveal any immediate plans.

Carl is a total gentleman and I feel certain he will land on his feet soon. I will misss him, Janet, and Trey. They are a genuine and warm family and have been a pleasure to be around the last five years.

More to come, if and when there's something new to report....

And, tomorrow I'll have some Texas game info to give you.


Sent Oct. 26, 2006, 11:21 a.m.

Subject: Ouch...undesirable news

Obviously, highly highly confidential, because we're not even going to inform our radio announcers beforehand:

We're likely to take on Baylor's new "Air Raid" passing attack (Texas Tech copycat) without the services of Brock Newton at one safety and Red Bryant at one defensive tackle. Yemi Babalola might also miss yet another game, other than emergency service in a jam.

Red has a muscle strain in the back of his right knee. It's gotten better each day, but it's swollen. Everything is stable. The muscle isn't even present in all people. His mental outlook has been off the charts positive, and he'll be on the sideline as a spirit leader if he cannot go on the field.

Newton's for sure out, with two different ailments from the OSU aftermath. One is clavicle -- front of the shoulder -- and prevents him from full range of motion in front of his body.

Look for either Johnathan Batson, who has proven to be a wonderful athlete but erratic (see: unnecessary personal foul hitting OSU player out of bounds with game on the line), or Japhus Brown, ibid, to fill for Newton.

Rather than replacing Bryant, if he can't go, the defensive alignment might just change. Recall that Chris Harrington moved back to a standup position, essentially a third linebacker, in a "stack" against Missouri that gives a 3-3 look.


Troublesome stat: 5th year Baylor quarterback Shawn Bell, who reportedly wanted to come here but wasn't offered by our predecessors, has thrown 10 interceptions this season and been sacked more than 20 times. (Baylor is among the national leaders in both categories.) But in the last two years against us, he has thrown 95 passes without us intercepting any. (Don't have sack info.)


Two good days of practice. Last night in the rain, just like the previous Wednesday. Difference was, last week was a deluge -- a fierce rain. And we stayed out in it. By the end of practice, almost everybody on the team had performed a belly-flop in the puddles and mud -- either during a play, or on purpose. "We worked really hard and really well, but we all had a good time, too," Coach Fran recalled. Last night the rain was steady, but not as strong. Still, the field resembled a rice paddy by the end of practice. Fran said that we had a good practice, and that the players have been consistently good at taking care of business.

This morning, he showed staff a video of Baylor fans, mostly students, tearing down the goal posts two years ago. He had James, our video guy, put it up on the looping video that goes to all the TV screens in the building all day so our players could see it.


LaMantia No. 12 again.

Team leaves tomorrow by bus to Temple. Then bus to Waco afternoon before kickoff. Joey Thomas and Earvin Taylor scheduled to appear on Coach Fran's radio show tonight. That's available live on the athletics Web site, www.aggieathletics.com. Will have the travel roster soon, and now we're going into offensive sequence scripting meeting. Should have some insights afterward. And, one member requested the breakout of how many downs each player played at OSU, so I'll fire that off to you, too.



Sent Nov. 22, 2006, 1:26 p.m.

Subject: Offensive sequence script


Big-play personnel -- Lane, Goodson, Martellus Bennett, Schroeder.

Take shots deep. (Some involve trickery.)

Gadgets. (Some involve the kicking game)

Hardball running plays.


A lot of two-play huddles, depending on the intensity of the crowd noise. Coach Fran: "I don't recall the noise there being a problem."

If they're in a one-safety set, look for hitch or fade passes.

Numerous plays they haven't seen, or familiar plays but out of new formations.

A slant-and-go play with potential excitement.

Sequenced 16 plays instead of the usual 12, to give more looks and find out what to go back to.

Lane on power, and then Goodson on a zone read that goes toward a different place in the defensive set than usual (they've never seen it run this way).

Playbook includes the zone-read option that we hurt them badly on last year.

Coach Fran said of Texas: "We'll need turnovers...have a sound kicking game...must be able to run on them, and then connect on passes like everybody else has done (t.u. is last in the conference in passing yardage given up)...nobody's been able to dominate the line of scrimmage on them this year, but at the same time they haven't faced a running game as good as ours."


Before practice, Antonio (Shorter) Armstrong is coming to practice and he'll talk briefly to the team. He was an All-American OLB who played on teams during '91-'94 that never lost to t.u. (or anybody else in the SWC) and won 45 games in four years. He was defensive player of the game in the Cotton against Notre Dame, and went on to Hula Bowl and third-round draft with 49ers as an outside linebacker.

Interesting story. Played his first three years here under his mother's maiden name. Didn't know his father. Just before his senior year he learned that his brother stabbed his father to death in their front yard. At the funeral he became acquainted with his father's family, and decided to honor his father by changing his last name to Armstrong.

The dad was a high school teammate of Jacob Green at Cashmere HS in Houston (is that the right spelling?).

Antonio now runs a fitness studio and serves as a personal trainer for athletes (and others), and on weekends he is pastor of a church. An Aggie friend said he is loaded with personality and charisma, is a good role model, and he's coming back to Aggieland today for the first time in over five years.


Enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving Day with friends and family, and yell like crazy on Friday morning until the sun sets (literally and figuratively) on t.u.

Be of good cheer, Mike


Sent Sept. 6, 2007, 12:24 p.m.

Game plan: CF: "they have not defended the speed option well."

We'll try to work the outside edge, spread them out, so that when we want to go in with J-Lane in Fresno's smashmouth style we hopefully have them on their heels a bit.

We scripted 14 plays in the sequence -- half runs, half passes. First play goes to Goodson, and second is a zone-read on which McGee either pitches to Goodson or keeps.

CF said "Fresno has a good defense, with good speed, and they'll play very physical and aggressive. They have good speed on that side of the ball." Fresno beat reporters say that the Bulldogs are inexperienced, but a better team than last year.



Sent Sept. 13, 2007, 10:14 a.m.

Gentlemen, I have sad news.

Coach Fran asked me to let you know he learned that some members of the media have obtained a copy or one or more of our VIP Connection reports, and some are upset that it exists. Therefore, Coach Fran has decided it is best to shut it down.

He said to let you know how grateful he is for your extreme loyalty and support, and that you represent in every way the reasons that he and Kim feel so at home among Aggies.

Coach said that Jeff Keys, whose company operates CoachFran.com, will be in touch with you to return any pre-paid accounts. Thank you again, and please stay in touch any time.

One of my great pleasures is having you as friends, so please stay in touch regularly. This email address remains an open door at all times, and Coach Fran welcomes you to stop by whenever you can.

You have been, and shall remain special to us in so many ways.

Be of good cheer, Mike

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