After three years in the American Athletic Conference (AAC), Tulane's Green Wave football team might have left fans feeling a little disappointed. After former head coach Curtis Johnson led the team for four seasons (2012-2015) with a combined record of 15-34, Willie Fritz took over the head coaching job last season and led the Green wave to a record of 4-8. Not much better.
At first glance, this team may seem like a team that is in need of much revamping and overhaul. Since 2003, they've only had one winning season and their record that season was 7-6. This is far from encouraging. What's the problem? What can the team do to increase their chances of winning? The easy answer to these questions is just to say that the team needs a fresh start and that they simply aren't good enough to compete with the other teams in their conference.
However, there are factors that go unnoticed when one takes this approach to improving a team like the Green Wave. First, head coach Willie Fritz may be new to Tulane after only one season here, but he is not new to coaching college football teams. He's been leading college teams as a head coach since 1993, coaching at schools like the University of Central Missouri, Sam Houston State University, and Georgia Southern University.
A coach who is new to a program like Tulane's (and really any college or professional sports program) always needs some time to build chemistry, get to know the best ways to lead the team, and to set realistic goals. It would be unrealistic to expect a new coach to come to a D1 school with a previously poor record and to turn that around in his first season, or even in his second or third season.
A new head coach is not the only major change that the Green Wave is currently getting used to, however. They were part of Conference USA until only three years ago, when the team joined the American Athletic Conference. By comparison, the AAC is a significantly more competitive conference. The Green Wave must now play against teams in the AAC like Tulsa, Temple, UCONN, Memphis, and UCF. These are opponents with much more to lose than the Green Wave's former conference rivals.
Joining a new conference is arguably a much bigger change than hiring a new head coach. The team is now going up against tougher competition, and also has to attempt to make a name for themselves in a conference with which they have little familiarity. Combined with the fact that Willie Fritz is so new to Tulane, the team has a lot to get used to in the coming seasons.
Despite all of this uncertainty and change, the Green Wave has shown a lot of possibility for long-term improvement. Upon entering a much more elite conference, the signing of a veteran head coach was a great low-risk move. Coach Fritz is extremely experienced and knows what is expected of him. Tulane University also invested a large sum of money into the construction of the new Yulman Stadium that was completed in 2014. Tulane has decided to invest more money into its football program in the coming years, the stadium being a prime example of this. It has helped foster more fan support, pride, and school spirit behind the Green Wave.
The long-term future of the team looks bright. Parry Nickerson, the redshirt senior star cornerback known as the Mayor of Uptown, said recently during media day, "I want to tell Tulane fans and the Uptown community that there's been a change in this program and we are going to get things rolling now."
Back in March, Willie Fritz announced that the junior quarterback Jonathan Banks would take the starting quarterback job over Glen Cuilette. When asked about his decision to give Banks the starting nod, Fritz said that when he was in junior college, Banks "ran some zone-read coverage and that's one of the big reasons we're excited about him. He's shown running ability in junior college. A lot of guys show passing ability, but you've got to be able to do both in this offense."
Considering the fact that the Green Wave had the second fewest yards through the air of any team in the entire country last year, a change in the play-calling position on offense can really only bring improvement. And it seems that with the change in quarterbacks, a great deal of real improvement may indeed be in store for the Green Wave in the 2017 season. The coaches and players all have a lot of respect for the new head coach and the new quarterback, and the team has a lot to prove going into the new season. The other teams in the AAC may have their hands full with Jonathan Banks, running back Sherman Badie, the Mayor of Uptown, and the rest of the Green Wave come September.
Photos by Parker Waters of Tulane University Football