NEW ORLEANS — Tulane is on a search.
In the short term, it’s looking for a new head football coach to replace Bob Toledo, who resigned under pressure last month. In the long-term, it’s trying to find a model to build consistent football success upon.
For the better part of 60 years, the correct answer to both quests has eluded the Green Wave.
“Our next challenge is to build a consistently successful program in football,” Tulane University president Scott Cowen said earlier this spring. “We understand this is a watershed moment. A clear vision, strategy and plan will guide us as we move toward the success we anticipate in the months and years ahead.”
On Saturday afternoon at SMU’s Gerald J. Ford Stadium, a case study in football renaissance will be staring Tulane in the face when the Wave (2-7, 1-4 Conference USA) take on the Mustangs (5-3,3-2) at 2 p.m.
Since bottoming-out with 1-11 records in 2007 and 2008, the Mustangs have clawed their way out of the Conference USA cellar to earn consecutive bowl bids and Western Division championships under the leadership of third-year coach June Jones.
Meanwhile, Tulane has produced just four winning seasons since 1982 and none since 2002.
SMU’s upswing didn’t happen by accident. It came on the heels of massive investment from the university into its football program, starting with the hiring of Jones, and SMU now claims to have the largest athletic budget of any BCS non-automatic-qualifying school.
Since 2000, SMU has built the $60 million Ford Stadium and committed an additional $80 million to new facilities and facility improvements. It’s also seen return on its investment, experiencing a 52 percent increase in attendance and 82 percent spike in annual giving over the past five years.
Those numbers have the school on the brink of joining the Big East, according to the New York Times.
Tulane also is pushing for a new on-campus stadium, and last month, Athletic Director Rick Dickson said his top priority was to make the new facility a reality. The Green Wave has played off-campus at the Superdome since leaving Tulane Stadium in 1974 and experienced sparse success inside of it.
But Dickson admitted a stadium alone isn’t enough to transform the program. As an example, SMU languished in Ford Stadium for eight seasons before constructing a winning season.
It took the combination of the right coach, boosted investment and improved recruiting to spur the Mustangs from perennial doormat to a model for success.
Tulane’s players and coaches have experienced SMU’s improved product first-hand, watching a series dominated by the Wave turn in the Mustangs’ favor. SMU has won the past two meetings after losing three of four matchups between 2005 and 2008.
Tulane is still searching for the coach to provide the foundation a thriving program can build from.
“It’s an important time in the history of the program,” Dickson said in October. “I think all of you know that in respect of today, we’ve been very direct about saying that it’s time to move this program to a point and place that it’s really struggled to find in over six decades. We know it’s not an overnight situation, but we’ve said competitive and consistent.
“Those things don’t happen overnight, but we know the necessary steps, the necessary tools and the resources that are needed to do so.”