Special thanks to Tammy Nunez, who covers Tulane for the Times-Picayune. …
(There have been just two winning seasons since 1998. Was there genuine optimism around the hiring of Curtis Johnson, and if so, why?)
Yes, the Tulane fan base was hoping the university would hire a young, enthusiastic coach that could recruit a higher level of athlete as well as recharge a program that has swooned in the past decade. Tulane hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2002 but was beginning to make headway in recruiting local skill players in the Bob Toledo era. Just months into the job, Johnson convinced two big local recruits – defensive backs Jordan Batiste of Lutcher High School and Darion Monroe of East St. John High school to switch commitments and sign with Tulane this winter. Batiste was committed to Ole Miss and Monroe to Texas A&M. These signees were and are considered signs that Johnson has what it takes to compete with other schools and build the program up from the grass roots.
(With Johnson having come from the Saints, is he trying to implement Sean Payton-style of offense?)
Yes, Johnson, or “CJ” as he is called, has transported the pro style Payton offense to Tulane. How much of that you will see this weekend is kind of hard to say because Tulane plans on starting Devin Powell, a freshman who does not have the playbook range to operate the offense. Powell is expected to start because of an injury to redshirt senior quarterback Ryan Griffin.
(Can he recruit to Tulane to be successful in the long term?)
With guys like Marshall Faulk and Ed Reed on his recruiting resume – it’s clear that CJ has a way with recruits. That, at this point, is considered his strongest asset. Here is a link to an in-depth story I did on CJ on his gift for recruiting: http://www.nola.com/tulane/index.ssf/2012/07/curtis_johnson_gives_tulane_fo.html
(Is the poor Superdome attendance a problem for visiting recruits, and do officials expect the atmosphere to change with a campus stadium? Where do plans for the stadium stand presently?)
There is no question attendance will pick up when Tulane completes its on-campus stadium – something the Tulane brass said will be finished in 2014. The plans are in motion now – the university is getting close to pulling permits for preliminary work on it. Ground-breaking is on track for January. The on-campus stadium has been a rallying cry for just about everyone in the Tulane nation. It is expected to be the jolt the athletic department needs to circle the wagons with its fan base and get the Green Wave back on its feet athletically and from a fiscal point of view (though this is a long-term process).
(What do you know about Devon Walker’s status?)
From interviews I’ve done with people close to Walker, it appears he still cannot move his hands and feet. That doesn’t mean he won’t eventually regain feeling and movement, but he has a long road of rehab and recovery that doesn’t guarantee a future of walking. The family has been very private about releasing even scant details about his condition and progress so it’s a little hard to say more than that. He is alert, talking and appears to be off a ventilator.
(In the changing college football landscape, is Conference USA the best fit for Tulane?)
Depends on who you ask. Tulane fans want the Green Wave in the Big 12 or ACC and some want Tulane back in the SEC. Right now Tulane is similar to schools like Rice and SMU and Tulsa academically and in other ways – all three are relatively small and private universities. If athletics got going in the right direction, the ACC would contain “like schools” – think Wake Forest and Duke. In some ways, Tulane could be a good match there. But Tulane’s athletic reputation in the big sports and its attendance (which affects TV) make it not so attractive in my opinion to more heavy-hitting conferences right now. It think Conference USA is a good fit for Tulane where it is right now. I doubt many fans would agree with me, however.