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Updated 5:19 AM on Tuesday, September 25, 2007

In the hot seat?

Gene Stallings, Jackie Sherrill and R.C. Slocum are among the six living former coaches who will serve as honorary captains for Saturday's home football game against Baylor.

It is a group that, after Thursday's blowout loss to Miami, many fans are hoping will soon increase by one.

Dennis Franchione is back in the hot seat as Texas A&M's head football coach. Online petitions calling for Franchione's firing have signatures in the thousands. Message boards have reached a near consensus against the coach. An A&M fraternity has even hung a large banner in front of its house begging the athletic department to "Fire Fran."

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Pi Kappa Phi fraternity members Ryan Ebler (left), C.J. Trevino and Gabe Guzman hang a sign on the fraternity house in College Station on Monday expressing their displeasure with Texas A&M football coach Dennis Franchione.

"We made it after the Fresno State game, but we didn't put it up until after Miami," said Charlie Denton, a senior member of Pi Kappa Phi, who hung the banner. "I think it kind of expresses the view of the student body that Fran and the coaching staff are mediocre. We just think he is incompetent. People have been making excuses for the past five years."

However, athletic department officials said that views being expressed - especially on the Internet - are from a vocal minority and not necessarily a reflection of the Aggie fan base as a whole.

"It is one of those things where if you believe [Internet chatter] you are the greatest thing since sliced bread one day, and they want to get rid of you the next," said Assistant Athletic Director Alan Cannon.

Athletic Director Bill Byrne was out of town Monday and could not be reached for comment. Cannon said that getting a true reading of fan sentiment was difficult, and the number of fans who still support Franchione was unclear.

The hot seat is a familiar one for coaches at A&M. The last head coach to leave the school on his own terms was the legendary Bear Bryant, who exited in 1957 to take a position at the University of Alabama.

"That is part of the job; you take it on when you assume the head coaching job at a university that is as public and as good as A&M," said former A&M coach Tom Wilson, who was fired as the A&M head coach in 1981. "That is one of the things that makes A&M so good; people expect so much success. You have got to accept it and learn to live with it and function the best you can."

Wilson, who coached A&M for three years, said Saturday will mark the first game he has viewed at Kyle Field since he last coached the team in a 21-13 loss to Texas in 1981.

"I wish [Franchione] the best of luck," Wilson said. "He has been an excellent coach before, and I am sure that in the past two or three weeks he hasn't become a bad coach."

Some fans, however, disagree. Some say they take exception to Franchione earning more than $2 million a year. Others say he does not show enough emotion. Still others say he cannot win a big game.

"Instead of building a stellar football program - what he is paid to do - he is building friendships and long-lasting relationships to his players, the players' parents and high-profile boosters," said Sean Nemec, an Aggie graduate who signed an online petition to request his firing. "We need to find a better candidate who can run this program."

Most fans seem to agree that Franchione will not be fired in the middle of the season, however, and they expect the debate to continue throughout the season.

The Web site has received about 15,000 hits since A&M's loss to Miami, according to the site's owner, Grant Pierce. He reported that 300 new people signed his online petition Monday; bringing the total of verified signees up to more than 2,600. Nearly 200 "Can Fran" T-shirts have also been sold by the site.

"If we can't find a qualified candidate to take care of the job then I think we should start a new tradition," Nemec said. "Each week we can pick a new student to coach his team based on his or her ability to play Madden '08 on Xbox 360."

Wilson, the former coach, said he knows from experience that those are tough words for coaches to hear.

"It is an unfortunate thing because you are dealing with assistant coaches and their families, too," Wilson said of being in the hot seat. "It is a feeling of not knowing. You always want to know what your future holds for you and your family. You are just trying to work as hard as you can."

• Matthew Watkins' e-mail address is matthew.watkins@

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