Our phone conversation took place in the early hours of Friday morning, but Tony Franklin could barely contain his happiness for Chris Todd, who was named the starting quarterback at Auburn on Thursday.
“There are very few people who really know how much that kid went through last year,” said Franklin, the former offensive coordinator at Auburn who now holds the same job at Middle Tennessee State. “We talked last night and I told him I was more proud of him than any other football player I’ve coached. A lot of people in his situation would have quit and moved on.”
It was one of the most difficult periods in Auburn football history. Head coach Tommy Tuberville, trying to juice up his offense and jump start recruiting, hired Franklin, a free-spirited guy who believed in the throwing version of the spread offense.
Franklin had known Todd as a high school player and felt he was perfect to run the new offense. Todd started at Texas Tech, went to junior college, and eventually followed Franklin to Auburn.
But there were a couple of problems.
No. 1: Nobody admitted how bad it was, but Todd had a dead arm. He tried to fix it with rest but it didn’t work. So Todd could never get the velocity on his throws that were necessary to run Franklin’s offense the way it is intended.
No. 2: Franklin’s personality and that of the rest of the offensive staff at Auburn, who had been with Tuberville a long time, simply did not mix. It was too much of a culture change. After nothing less than a staff revolt, head coach Tommy Tuberville resolved the conflict by letting Franklin go at midseason. At the end of the 2008 season Tuberville was gone as well.
Todd had won the quarterback job but when the offense struggled, the fans turned on him and Franklin. And when Franklin was gone, Todd immediately lost the job and Kodi Burns became the starter. It looked like Todd’s career at Auburn was over.
Todd decided to stay at Auburn when it hired a new head coach in Gene Chizik, who brought in Gus Malzahn as offensive coordinator. Todd also got surgery in December to fix his weakened arm. He didn’t throw in the spring but is throwing well enough now to be named the starter. And this is telling: When Todd was named the starter yesterday his main competitor, Burns, was moved to receiver, where there is a need for more athleticism.
“I’m excited about the opportunity here,” Todd told the Birmingham News yesterday. “I have the utmost respect for the other quarterbacks. They made me better every single day.”
“Chris has already gotten his undergraduate degree so he could have gone on with his life,” said Franklin. “But he decided he wanted to stay and compete. And when you look at Gus’s offense, Chris looks like the perfect fit.”
Franklin’s offense is a pass-first, run-second spread that focuses on getting fast athletes in space against slower athletes. Malzahn also spreads the field but does it to first create running lanes. Tulsa, where Malzahn has resided the past two seasons, led the nation in total offense in 2008 with 569.81 yards per game. If that total 268.0 was rushing and 301.86 was passing.
“I like the offensive staff that Auburn has put together and they are going to have a good year if they stay patient with Chris,” said Franklin.
Ah, patience. Franklin learned the hard way that the commodity is in very short supply in the SEC. But, like Todd, Franklin said he is a better coach having gone through the tough experience.
“What Chris went through at Auburn prepared him to face the rest of his life,” said Franklin. “It ain’t fun when you’re going through it. But it does make you stronger.”
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