NEW ORLEANS — It was one of those Chamber of Commerce postcard-worthy March days. But the Tulane football team didn’t get to enjoy it.
Unless you count the bus ride between the Wilson Center and the New Orleans Saints’ indoor practice facility.
A strange spring practice ended Saturday with the Green Wave working inside for the 14th time out of their allotted 15 sessions thanks to the construction of Yulman Stadium, which forced them off campus and left them dealing with the Saints’ outdoor fields not being marked off.
The only exception — March 2 when the team had what amounted to its spring game at Tad Gormley Stadium, a change made because there were no other sports on campus that day as opposed to baseball and basketball games Saturday and school officials didn’t want fan loyalties divided.
“And that turned out to be the coldest day we had,” said second-year Tulane coach Curtis Johnson.
We said it was strange.
But that’s what you get when you’re the first team in the nation to begin spring drills (Feb. 13) and the first to finish them.
They didn’t even officially make it to spring. Winter lasts another 11 days.
But the “when” of spring practice is far less important than the “what,” which in Tulane’s case is what was accomplished.
“We improved,” Johnson said. “There’s no question that I feel a lot better about this now than I did a year ago.”
Well, that’s good, considering Tulane finished 2-10 in Johnson’s inaugural season, the 10th straight losing campaign for a program that’s firmly established itself among the worst in the country.
However, the Wave didn’t come out of spring with a starting quarterback.
Nick Montana arrived from junior college to great ballyhoo, but Joe’s son couldn’t separate himself from redshirt freshman Devin Powell, who did get an emergency start last season when Ryan Griffin was injured.
“To have a great team you’ve got to have great competition,” Johnson said. “That’s what we’ve got at quarterback.
“Nick’s still trying to fit into the system, and Devin sure didn’t come here to sit on the bench.”
There were others who did assert themselves in the spring, Johnson added, most notably linebacker Dominique Robertson and defensive end Royce LaFrance.
More importantly the team came out of spring with no serious injuries. One reason for starting early was to give those who were injured more recovery time but fortunately, there were none.
Another reason for the early start was to leave April free for recruiting in hopes of building on a Louisiana-heavy class of freshmen who have created a buzz, at least by Tulane standards.
That’s important because the Wave has a window of opportunity in 2013, its last season in a diminished Conference USA before moving to what used to be the Big East but which reportedly will be called the America 12 (yuck) in 2014.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing or what they call our conference,” Johnson said. “We’re starting to get some momentum, but now we’ve got to win some games. With our new opponents, we think this could be a good year for us.”
Neither, he added, were the when and where of spring a detriment, in large part because the program will be depending on his ex-employers’ largesse again this fall.
“We’re practicing like we’re supposed to,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where you are, and it’s doesn’t matter about the climate. The important thing is to practice well. That’s the only way you play well.”