Tulane Feeling The Willie Fritz Effect

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Tulane scored what I considered one of the biggest coaching carousel coups in recent years when it hired Willie Fritz in December 2015. A winner at almost every level of college football, Fritz brought the credentials to suggest a turnaround for a long-struggling program.

Saturday’s 21-17 win over a good Army team — an Army bunch that won eight games a season ago — provides some of the first, tangible evidence of the Willie Fritz Effect taking over at Tulane. The Green Wave bent against Army’s flexbone offense, allowing 371 yards, but didn’t break, holding the Black Knights to two touchdowns.

The Tulane offense showed flashes of the explosiveness Fritz instilled at 2011 and 2012 FCS runner-up Sam Houston State and 2014 Sun Belt Conference champion Georgia Southern, ripping off 8.4 yards per on 30 rushes.

With effective defense and a potent run game, Tulane could be a spoiler in an American Athletic Conference West division where pass-happy offenses like SMU, Memphis and Tulsa are the standard. At 2-2, the Green Wave have a solid start in pursuit of a bowl bid, which might be ahead of schedule given the magnitude of rebuild Willie Fritz and staff took on. But excelling in Year 2 has been Fritz’s standard.

Fritz took on a considerable task heading a program with just five bowl appearances since 1980 and four winning records in the past two decades, but he proved uniquely qualified for the job in his previous stops.

He arrived at Tulane via one of the more unconventional paths among FBS coaches, progressing from junior college, to Div. II, to FCS, to FBS and now at the self-described “sixth power conference.”

At D-II Central Missouri, Fritz won eight games in his second year, beginning a streak of eight straight finishes over .500. In his seventh season, he led the Mules to their first conference championship in 15 years.

Fritz’s second season at Sam Houston State produced a Southland Conference title for the Bearkats, and the first of two consecutive appearances in the FCS national championship game.

Georgia Southern was the first time Fritz inherited a program coming off measurable success, coincidentally replacing current Army head coach, Jeff Monken. But Fritz’s two-year tenure made the Eagles’ transition from FCS powerhouse to FBS conference contender look easy, yielding a Sun Belt championship in Year 1, and the program’s first (and only) bowl appearance in Year 2.

So, should Tulane bowl this season, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise. A win over Army coming off a bowl season is a strong indicator that’s the direction the Green Wave are headed, but not the first indicator this season, either.

Before pulling to 2-2, Tulane took American Athletic divisional counterpart Navy to the brink in Week 2 and gave Oklahoma a fight in the first half Week 3. As this season unfolds — and the seasons to come under Fritz — expect more from the Green Wave.