COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Dennis Franchione dodged questions about his future as Texas A&M coach Tuesday and said reports about a negotiated contract buyout were untrue.
“I am not going to get into the rumor game with you guys,” Franchione said during his weekly news conference. “There are no facts to that and I’m not into it. I’m sorry that you guys have to deal with it.”
Several media outlets reported Monday the school was to get rid of Franchione after five years as coach. Franchione’s contract pays him $2 million per year and runs through 2012.
The Aggies play at Missouri on Saturday and Franchione refused to talk about anything but that game.
“I know you have your work to do and your questions to ask, but I’m a non-participant in this,” Franchione said.
Franchione bristled when he was asked if he expected to be A&M’s coach next season.
“You want to talk about Missouri, you want to talk about the games, I’m willing to sit here with you,” he said. “You guys go ahead and speculate on all the other things. That is not my concern at this point in time.”
Franchione, 56, has faced growing discontent with A&M’s fan base as the Aggies have fallen behind the Big 12’s elite teams and slipped out of the national spotlight. Under Franchione, A&M is 2-12 against Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma.
The criticism intensified a month ago, when Franchione was caught selling inside information to boosters for $1,200. The e-mailed newsletters, dubbed “The VIP Connection,” contained news about players’ injuries, their academic standing and Franchione’s blunt assessments of their skills.
Athletics director Bill Byrne was not aware of the e-mails and Franchione apparently violated his contract by not reporting the income the newsletters generated.
Byrne admonished Franchione for the newsletter and ordered him to shut down his personal Web site. The school launched an internal investigation and sent the findings to the NCAA, acknowledging some secondary violations. Byrne said last month he would consider the e-mail scandal when he evaluated Franchione at the end of the season.
Amid Monday’s reports about Franchione’s status, the school released a statement that said Byrne planned to wait until the season ended before evaluating Franchione. The statement said there were “false rumors” circulating about the program.
The Aggies didn’t practice Monday, but the players spent the day wondering about Franchione, too. None of them heard from the coach but assumed the reports weren’t true.
“We would’ve been the first to know,” senior guard Kirk Elder said Tuesday. “There would’ve been some kind of notification to the players.”
Tight end Martellus Bennett wasn’t surprised by the reports.
“We all knew what was ahead anyway,” Bennett said. “Anybody could see it.
“Everything that’s been going on, the position Coach has been in and all the attention that’s been brought to it, it’s a business. It’s like if you’re at work and all your co-workers come around and tell you, ‘Hey man, the boss is not happy with you. You get your pink slip. You better watch out.’
“It’s like, you can kind of see what’s happening, but you really don’t know.”
Speculation has swirled around Franchione’s future since the Aggies’ 34-17 loss to Miami on Sept. 20. The news of the per-pay e-mails broke a week later and the players have faced weekly questions about him since.
A few days after the e-mails became public, the Aggies filled an auditorium and applauded Franchione as he stepped to a podium. They were still supporting him Tuesday.
“He’s our coach and he’s our man and we’re going to fight our tail off for him,” said junior quarterback Stephen McGee. “I love Coach to death and none of that is ever going to change.”
The Aggies admit the uncertainty has become a distraction that’s been impossible to ignore.
“Coming out of that Miami game, that’s when it started,” said senior defensive end Chris Harrington. “That’s no time to start talking about coaching changes, and I’m really disappointed at whoever was saying those things.”
Harrington said there’s not much point worrying about Franchione’s future.
“What does it matter what we think or thinking about it or worrying about it?” he said. “It doesn’t. You just try to get away in your head and focus on what you can deal with, what you can control and handle.”