Dennis Franchione is college football's version of NBA nomad Larry Brown — a successful coach who would rather rent than buy. In 20 seasons as a head coach, he's had seven different employers. His travels include stints at Southwestern College and Pittsburg State in Kansas; Southwest Texas State; New Mexico; Texas Christian; Alabama; and now, Texas A&M.
Each stop is marked with success. Franchione's 155 wins are the seventh most among active coaches.
"Here's a guy that has won at every level he's coached at," Utah coach Urban Meyer said while noting Franchione's climb through the ranks. "I've just always admired the way he's done things."
On Saturday, Meyer gets his first chance to match wits with Franchione when Utah (1-0) visits Texas A&M (1-0) at rowdy Kyle Field (6 p.m., KJZZ, Ch. 14). Both coaches are coming off successful debuts with their teams — the Utes defeated Utah State 40-20 and the Aggies topped Arkansas State 26-11.
Though depth is a concern, Meyer is convinced Utah's No. 1's can play with A&M's starters. So, too, is Franchione. At his weekly press conference, he shrugged off the notion of an automatic victory over the Utes.
"If this team was in the Big 12 they would hold their own. They would not be anything but very competitive. They would play everybody tough in our league," Franchione said. "When I talk to you about them having Pac-10 personnel I think I use that as an illustration to tell you that they do have good players. You will be impressed when they run out on to the field Saturday night."
The coaches are friends, dating back to a camp they worked at in Mexico several years ago.
"We got to know each other well and his wife and my wife became good friends. We have kept in touch," Franchione said. "He has done a great job as a head coach. He has been under good coaches with Earle Bruce and Sonny Lubick and then at Notre Dame with Coach (Lou) Holtz. He did a great job at Bowling Green. He is certainly one of the rising stars in our profession."
Mutual respect aside, there is some history here. From 1992-97 when Franchione coached New Mexico, he was 3-3 against the Utes. He recalls some tough battles with defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham — and was particularly impressed with Utah's performance at Michigan in 2002.
"He does a great job. He's an outstanding coach," Franchione said. "They played good defense last year and certainly will be a challenge for us and our offense."
The Aggies sport a two-quarterback approach. Dustin Long hold several team passing records, while Reggie McNeal is a Michael Vick-type, who directed last season's upset win over No. 1-ranked Oklahoma.
A&M's ability to alter its attack is difficult to defend. Whittingham said it requires two mindsets. Past experience against Franchione will help, but offenses and defenses evolve over time. Some basic structures remain, however.
"We always gear towards trying to stop the run that's our starting point week-in and week-out with very few exceptions," Whittingham said. "That's our philosophy and that won't change this week."
Aware of the plans to make his team one-dimensional, Franchione vows the Aggies will be balanced. Not necessarily 50-50 run and pass, he explained, but capable of doing both.
"He makes the most of what he has," Meyer said. "I think that's the sign of a good coach."
KAUFUSI PROGRESSING: Senior defensive end Jason Kaufusi admits there's a possibility he could redshirt this season. The All-America candidate, who hasn't practiced since suffering an offseason shoulder surgery, may explore that option if he isn't able to play by Week 5 when the Utes open conference play at Colorado State.
Kaufusi, whose range of motion is approaching a playable level, is regaining his strength and working hard to get back on the field. A recent surgical procedure has helped loosen things up.
Even so, Kaufusi vows to be "patient enough not to do anything stupid" that could impede his progress.
EXTRA POINTS: Gerald Fletcher, a 5-foot-9, 168-pound junior, has quickly worked his way up the depth chart. The cornerback will see action in nickel situations and back up Arnold Parker on the left side . . . In preparation for Saturday's game at Kyle Field, the Utes have spent parts of the past two days practicing with speakers blasting crowd noise . . . Offensive lineman Chris Kemoeatu will miss Utah's first three games after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery Wednesday . . . Linebacker Zach Tune will play after serving a one-game suspension last week against USU.