By Larry Keech,
Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record
August 5, 2002 DURHAM - Nowadays, every time Carl Franks faces one of the mass media interviews that are part of the routine for any head football coach at the major college level, you can almost see him gritting his teeth behind his smile.
Franks knows what's coming. He knows the line of questioning eventually will linger on the painful subject of his team's 23-game losing streak. The worst part about it is this: He can't be certain when the streak will end, and thus when the questions will cease.
That could happen as early as the last day of August, when Duke entertains East Carolina in its non-conference opener at Wade Stadium. Or it may not happen during the 12-game 2002 schedule, in which case the Blue Devils will break the Division I-A record of 34 straight defeats set by Northwestern in 1982.
Franks insists that interview sessions are the only time he is called upon to talk about the streak. He says that when he's with his players and coaching staff, it's never mentioned.
"We all know it's there, so there's no need to talk about it," Franks said. "It's certainly no fun to talk about it. Our players know, and it pisses 'em off. I guarantee they're aware of when they'll get their next chance to end it."
But even though the wills are strong, the backs still may be too weak. As Franks enters his fourth season, Duke could continue to lack the talent and experience necessary to win against its eight-game ACC schedule, plus home games against ECU and Louisville, along with dates at Northwestern and Navy. The 2002 Devils are, after all, a team with only one senior. They're also a team that lost its two-year starting quarterback, D. Bryant, an academic casualty after spring practice.
In responding to such adverse developments, Franks determinedly manages to find a silver lining.
The two sophomores competing for the QB job, Rutgers transfer Chris Dapolito and Adam Smith, both outplayed Bryant in Duke's spring game. Between them, they completed 21 of 31 passes for 246 yards, good statistics even against what was the ACC's most porous defense in 2001. Franks wasted no time in pointing out that Dapolito and Smith will be replacing someone whose record as Duke's starter was 0-18.
"I like D.," Franks said. "I felt he had grown a great deal. But he still hadn't won a game in 18 tries. Now that these two young guys know they have an opportunity to start, maybe one of them can provide the little extra spark we need."
The choice is between Smith, a 6-5 Californian with a better grasp of the offense, and the 6-3, 215-pound Dapolito, whose athleticism helps establish him as a running threat as well as a passer.
"Smith is smart and an accurate passer," Franks said. "Dapolito is a better athlete. We're not completely opposed to a two-quarterback system, but we'd like to see one of them become more demonstrative and establish an edge in leadership by the end of preseason practice."
Aside from the uncertainty at quarterback, Duke's offense appears more sound than it has been in the three years since Franks replaced Fred Goldsmith. Although the Duke coach continues to function as his own coordinator, he recently promoted quarterback coach Jim Pry to the title of passing game
coordinator and veteran line coach Rich McGeorge to running game coordinator.
The return of tailback Chris Douglas and most of the offensive line figures to make
McGeorge's job easier than Pry's. Douglas, a 5-11, 190-pound junior, should continue to grow a bit bigger, a bit stronger and maybe even a bit faster with each season. He rushed for 503 yards as a freshman and 841 last year, so there's reason to believe he'll pass the 1,000 mark this time. He also is a proven commodity as a receiver and return specialist.
"He's the difference maker," Franks said, "the guy who gives us a chance to score from anywhere on the field."
Receivers, long a strong point for Duke, have disappointed Franks with dropped passes and imprecise routes since his arrival. But he sees favorable signs in the development of Khary Sharpe, possession receiver Lance Johnson, Reggie Love and tight end Nick Brzezinski.
Spearheading Franks' attempt to shore up a defense that surrendered ACC-worst averages of 492 yards and 44 points per game last season is Ted Roof, lured away from Georgia Tech to replace Bob Trott as defensive coordinator. Franks said he's encouraged by Roof's installation of a system that emphasizes gang-tackling aggressiveness.
"Coach Roof loves football; you can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice," said linebacker Jamyon Small, Duke's lone senior. "One of the keys to his scheme is the kind of emotion that helps everybody get to the football. His excitement and enthusiasm might be just what we need."
To implement Roof's system, he has sought to increase the speed of the unit by turning defensive backs into linebackers and linebackers into linemen.
Small is one of seven returning starters. His running mate, 6-4 junior Ryan Fowler, is primed to improve on last year's team-leading total of 127 tackles. Sophomore Giuseppe Aguanno is a youngster to watch. The line appears to be in competent, if unspectacular, veteran hands. Tackle Matt Zielinski and ends Shawn Johnson and converted linebacker Jim Scharrer are returning starters.
The primary concern for Roof and Franks is a secondary with more speed but less experience than the 2001 group. Terrell Smith has been moved from cornerback to safety, where he'll team with sophomore Alex Green or junior Anthony Roberts. Smith's move made room for promising cover corners Temo George and Kenneth Stanford.
Franks, a tight end at Duke in the early 1980s who became a Steve Spurrier coaching protÈgÈ, knows he's engaged in a race against time, with two years left on his contract. Athletic director Joe Alleva has indicated that another winless season, with little sign of improvement, will strain his patience to the breaking point.
Franks understands the hard realities of his profession, especially since Duke has completed a lavish $20 million football building to house coaches' offices, meeting rooms, a spacious weight training room, a state-of-the-art medical facility, an indoor practice area and an NFL-caliber locker room.
"Winning football games has been harder than I anticipated it would be," said Franks, whose three-year record at his alma mater is
3-30. "They (Alleva and Duke's administration) have been very, very patient. Our players have matured somewhat, but I realize that somebody else might reap the benefits of their development in the future."