24 September 2006

Tulane Football: You Get What You Pay For

I am one of the hardcore LSU alumni/fans who does not hate Tulane. I probably grew up a bigger Tulane fan than an LSU fan. My dad was a Tulane season ticket holder, and I was in the Dome for the 2 big wins over LSU in the late 70s/early 80s. The "Dalton-James Gang," Wally English and the Bubby Brister incident changed my allegiances--permanently. But I was still happy for Tulane when they had the perfect season under Tommy Bowden.

So, needless to say, I was happy when LSU whipped Tulane 49-7. But not that happy. It's sad to see how far Tulane has dropped.

Some of the younger people may not realize what Tulane used to be. If you don't know, read this article. It's gone from a national powerhouse in the 1950s to a program that was at the center of a much-publicized debate between the haves and the have-nots a couple of years ago.

Or if you want to get more recent, how did Tulane get from a perfect season to this year in less than a decade? And don't say "Katrina," because this trend started in the early 2000s.

For both, the answer is easy. The decline from the 1950s is due to leaving the SEC and enforcing academic standards for student-athletes (which is not necessarily a bad thing).

The decline from the Tommy Bowden era is, in my opinion, Tulane's fault. It's due to a conscious decision to choose program continuity over building a competitive program. Or specifically:

Chris Scelfo. That's when it happened.

Look, I know it sucks to lose good head coaches. I remember when Larry Smith was on the road out of town when Tulane regained its prominence in 1979. I remember Mack Brown dumping the program the second he had a winning season. And, of course, there's Tommy Bowden. And that's the exact moment when it happened.

Tommy Bowden left for Clemson after the perfect season. He had Rich Rodriguez on his staff. He deserved the job. He wanted the job. But Tulane passed him over, because they didn't want another coach who would leave for a higher-profile program 2 years later. So, instead, Tulane gave the job to a Louisiana native with Tulane connections. It found a guy who wasn't going to leave for greener pastures after a couple of seasons. It found Chris Scelfo. And then, it basically gave Scelfo a "coach for life" offer after one winning season (for the record, he has 2 winning seasons and one bowl appearance--and win--in his 7-plus years at Tulane). It's a noble idea, but there was only one problem.

Chris Scelfo is a terrible head coach. Buddy Teevens bad.

So I don't know how I feel about Tulane. I feel bad for them, but I don't, because it was in part a conscious decision to accept mediocrity. Schools like Boise State and Miami of Ohio have accepted their role as "stepping stone" schools. They lose their coaches to prestigious programs every few years. But they just come right back and find the next-best guy, win some more, and then lose that guy too. They are proof that you can keep on winning in spite of being under-funded athletic programs from non-BCS conferences, and in spite of losing coaches every few years. Tulane decided to hop off that train, and Tulane is where it is today. Staring down the barrel of another 2-9 season.

I want Tulane football to come back and be relevant again. I don't want to see the program disappear and use Katrina as the cop-out excuse. But it's not gonna happen until Tulane accepts its current role in the college football landscape. And that means firing Chris Scelfo and finding a coach who might leave once he becomes successful.

Because there will be another promising young coach to replace him if you make an effort to find him.

So, there's your dose of sports for the weekend. More Tuesday morning after the Saints game. But until then, back to other issues.

TAGS: Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Tulane, Green Wave, Chris Scelfo


At September 24, 2006 11:17 AM, Anonymous ashley said...

"Tommy Bowden left for Clemson after the perfect season."

Not exactly. This mook left before the season was even over, and didn't coach in the bowl game.

At September 24, 2006 11:27 AM, Anonymous ashley said...

Also, I think that the fall of Tulane's national prominence has a lot to do with the demolition of Tulane Stadium. I know that places like UCLA and USC can get by without an on-campus stadium, but it sure does help spirit and morale.

At September 24, 2006 12:30 PM, Blogger Fitch N. DarDar said...

Absolutely right as usual, Ashley. That Liberty Bowl against BYU was depressing, instead of being a celebration. Chris Scelfo "coached" the game, and then they carried Rich Rodriguez off the field. The team viewed him as an outsider, and it lost all its continuity. I'm convinced (and I'm not the only one) that if they hired Rich Rodriguez, they would have had 2 more 10-win seasons, and then he would have left for West Virginia. I mean you have NFL-caliber skill players like J.P. Losman and Mewelde Moore, and you still can't get bowl-eligible more than once? That's unacceptable.

At September 24, 2006 1:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whether or not Chris Scelfo is as horrid as you are making it out, the higher-up's, President Cowen and his athletic director Rick Dickson, should not, should not, should not, get let off the hook.

The main responsibility is theirs, really, not as much Scelfo's as many seem to wont to make it.

They hired him, have not fired him to date and have even extended his contract more than once.

Actually, Chris Scelfo is about average. I find all this talk about how he is some total failure very hard to understand. He's coached more than one team to an above-.500 season and coached Tulane to a bowl win more than once, although, sure, the Liberty Bowl could be counted as an exception. How many Tulane coaches can make the same claim? How many have done better?

How many "better" coaches can Tulane afford and would actually consider coming and working for Scott Cowen?

Remember, Cowen was not around when Tulane hired Bowden and Cowen, for sure, has the no. 1 ego on campus and is not about to let anyone else even be a within-hailing-distance second.

Tulane's fall from national prominence was by Tulane's own doing and long before they demolished the stadium. It was actually more than 50 years ago with a break from circa the late 1960's until the scandals in the mid 1980's. Then there was Cowen's own stunt with his athletics "review," a preview, if you will, of how he was going to carry out other major decisions.

The news got leaked about the athletics review and the politicians twisted his arm, although I can't imagine for a second that he has given up on taking Tulane to Div. III, same as Case-Western Reserve, and, if anything, since 2003 he has only tightened his grip on Tulane (see decisions about Newcomb and engineering).

The main thing is that the Cowen modus operandi has not changed at all. He alone knows what's best for all of us, since, after all, in the minds of his boosters and apologists he's the great hero and Dear Leader, and we get to find out about these decisions only after the fact.

At September 24, 2006 1:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll tell you what.

Tell Chris Scelfo that it's OK if only half of his players graduate, that if a few of them get into trouble with the law every now and then that we'll, uh, handle it, that the staff can engage in similar, uh, sleazy recruiting practices that most of these universities in the region practice, that he can have the same facilities and resources that the most of these programs have and I'll bet you that the team would be winning 7, 8 games a year at a nice clip.

Moreover, tell him the above and that if the team doesn't win then he has to take the fall for it and that would be fair and reasonable.

Of course, I can see Cowen throwing Scelfo under the bus and having him take the fall. That would not be surprising.

At September 24, 2006 1:56 PM, Blogger Fitch N. DarDar said...

I think everybody brings up good points. As I said in my response to Ashley, I think he should have had 7-8 wins his first few years with the players he inherited and decent recruiting classes. I compared him to "The Buddy System" because the only difference between the 2 was that the program was already cicling the drain when Buddy inhereted it.

And good points about the administration. It deserves as much blame as the coach. I just truly believe that with the potential fan support and recruiting bases, you can still build a winning program even with limited budgets and academic standards. I just don't buy the argument that schools like Tulane and Rice can't compete. How is pre-Katrina Tulane that much different than TCU? And how can Navy be bowl-eligible every year lately? They have rigorous academic standards, and Navy never gets stud athletes because of the service commitment!

At September 24, 2006 8:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Realistically, it's very hard to be consistent with a limited budget and the academic limitations.

Tulane is in a tight spot in that it does not have the conference affiliation that Vanderbilt does and does not have near the money that Rice does -- and also of course not the name power of USC or Notre Dame.

OK though what is TCU doing?

Good question.

I sense that TCU is set on doing whatever they need to do to win games and get some consistency going and, very important, their whole university community is united on what they're doing.

Is Tulane's university community of faculty, administration, alumnni, fans, etc. anything other than fractured in its opinion with the fear of another scandal ever present?

TCU is also in a tremendous area to recruit.

Navy, well, is not worried about finances and will never be, of course (and is Army, in going back to being independent following Navy's example?). Navy plays the teams it should play with Notre Dame thrown in as the token big game other than the season-ender against Army.

I'd like to see Tulane do exactly that. Get out of this conference. While Tulane ought to be playing Rice, SMU, USM and Memphis and maybe Houston the rest of league is too far away and has nothing in common with Tulane.

Like the article cited pointed out, Tulane in reality left the SEC to make for a more favorable schedule.

There needs to be the institutional will to win and community unity like at TCU and the independent status like at Navy, in summary.


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