Tulane’s new head football coach Willie Fritz is a ‘man on a mission’ in his 1st year in charge of the program.
Fritz is on a mission because Tulane has 1 winning season since 2002, and has won 6 games in the American Athletic Conference since joining in 2014.
Before ending up in New Orleans, Fritz has been a winner at every stop along the way; which include Blinn Junior College, Central Missouri, Sam Houston State, and Georgia Southern.
At these stops, he’s a combined 193-74-1.
But yet, Fritz’s accomplishments may be unfairly overlooked since they were at the “small school” level, and not at the Division 1 / major college football level.
There are skeptics and rightfully so that feel that Fritz’s future with the Green Wave is in for a rough start, given Tulane’s rebuilding status following
As the Tulane fall camp enters it final phases. Coach Fritz wants to focus on the details like discipline, overcoming adversity, and being fundamentally sound.
New Tulane head coach Willie Fritz (photo courtesy of sportsnola.com)
Fritz has focused on defining roles and organization. Working on fundamental, turnover ratio, and promote ball security.
Fritz’s first few days on campus involved gathering senior players gaining their trust, and let them know he wants to turn things around quickly. Fritz wanted to establish relationships, implement his philosophies and change the culture and attitudes within the team, student body, and fan base.
Fritz has revamped a Green Wave offense that averaged less than 20 points per game and scored only 13 touchdowns in 8 conference games.
The Green Wave offense also went 3 and out 40% of the time last year. Fritz is tasked with an inexperienced QB in a new system, and a defense that was 80th ranked nationally.
Fritz has a monumental task of not only coaching special teams himself, but correcting punt protection breakdowns, a return game that produced next to nil, and solving the continued botched snaps.
Last Friday, Fritz named the starting QB for the September 1st season opener against Wake Forest. Coach Fritz has named Glenn Cuiellette as Green Wave starting quarterback.
Cuiellette a red shirt sophomore and former Mandeville High star, was pitted against freshmen Darius Bradwell and Johnathan Brantley; and had been in an intense battle throughout fall camp.
Cuiellette is looking forward to the season while putting the QB battle in his rearview mirror:
"Tulane sophomore QB Tanner Lee calls a play during a Fall Camp scrimmage at Yulman Stadium, August 15th, 2015 (Photo courtesy of TulaneGreenWave.com)“There’s a slight relief, but overall the way I feel is that this is just the beginning. When you’re named the starter, you have to live up to a certain standard and keep it. I’ve matured a lot since my freshman year and I feel like I’m ready to lead these guys and be more mature about the position that comes with it.”"
The QB decision was very difficult for Fritz and the coaching staff. Amazingly and probably a bit worrisome is the fact that the Green Wave don’t have a QB on the roster that has attempted a collegiate pass.
Not even ONE.
Additionally, Fritz also plans on playing a second quarterback at Wake Forest.
Fritz didn’t specify whether it would be Brantley or Bradwell, and the game plan would be to give the second quarterback opportunities to play several series rather than a few plays.
Fritz on playing 2 QB’s and how it will work:
"“Two guys will definitely play on Thursday and we’re still deciding who’s that going to be and how long they’ll play.“Both Johnathan and Darius are really, really explosive guys…it may be that we’ll play a guy this series or for that particular package.”"
Defensively, the Green Wave return eight of its top 10 tacklers.
DT Tanzel Smart and LB Nico Marley are front seven all-stars, and just one starter is gone from a five-man secondary.
An All-AAC First Teamer, Smart will anchor the Tulane D-line from the tackle spot, yet also possesses the quickness and the drive to make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Marley, also a First Team All-ACC selection, is undersized at 5-10, 215 pounds but he’s the heart and soul of the defense and a literal tackling machine.
Nov 8, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Cougars wide receiver Daniel Spencer (4) fumbles the ball as Tulane Green Wave linebacker Nico Marley (20) makes a defensive play during the first quarter at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Despite these two first-team All-AAC selections, Tulane still finished 80th nationally in yards allowed (412.3 per game) and 110th in points allowed (36.3 per game). Opponents also converted 46.4% on third down.
However, new defensive coordinator Jack Curtis will need to get this unit playing with more consistency to improve upon last year’s porous results.
Tulane yielded an average of 39 points in its 11 games with FBS opponents, dogged by poor tackling and blown coverages.
Curtis plans to employ a balanced D that won’t be defined by one specific approach or philosophy. His biggest objectives will be to coach up a defensive backfield that suffered several breakdowns in 2015 and to develop a couple of consistent edge rushers.
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The secondary is experienced and has potential playmakers, like CB Parry Nickerson and FS Jarrod Franklin. Junior Quinlan Carroll will be opposite Ade Aruna at defensive end. In his base alignment, Curtis plans to use a nickel back, likely senior Richard Allen, in place of a third linebacker.
The Green Wave is cautiously optimistic about the front six, led by Marley, Smart and Sean Wilson. Plus, Allen is an experienced cornerback who can help support a secondary that was vulnerable and picked apart last season.
As the team now turns its attention towards the opener at Wake Forest, there is another issue to contend with for Fritz.
The Green Wave are lacking bodies on the bench; and this has forced Fritz to alter the team’s preparation for Wake Forest.
Coach Fritz can’t create scout teams on offense and defense quite simply because he doesn’t have enough players. This prevents the players from seeing the looks that are expected from Wake Forest.
Photo courtesy of Parker Waters, Tulane Athletics
The lack of a scout team has been caused by attrition and lack of walk-ons.
Tulane totals 12 offensive lineman and 79 non-kicking specialists. Typically teams have 15-17 Offensive lineman and upwards of 130 players. The departure of 16 scholarships players from the Curtis Johnson to Fritz regime has left the Green Wave thin in the personnel department.
Tulane has a major depth issue, which in time can cause problems in the 4th quarter. Without quality depth, the starters can experience fatigue and a breakdown in fundamentals.
It’s going to be very difficult to beat teams in the 4th quarter with a shortage of players.
Time will tell if coach Fritz can build a winner at Tulane.
Thus far Fritz has built confidence and enthusiasm in his team; but it remains to be seen just how many wins that it will lead to in the long run.
Oct 3, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Tulane Green Wave offensive tackle Devon Johnson (74) and defensive end Ade Aruna (87) and offensive lineman Keyshawn McLeod (53) celebrate after a turnover by UCF Knights during the second quarter of a game at Yulman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
But nevertheless, make no mistake about it.
Tulane Football and its new head coach are dedicated to bringing a winning culture back to the program. They collectively are men on a mission.
How long that mission will take to accomplish, is the next story yet to be written…..