A university source confirmed Monday that Tulane was negotiating a multi-year contract extension with football coach Willie Fritz.
Fritz, who just completed his second season, is 9-15 in New Orleans but came within a referee’s ruling on the last play of the 2017 finale at SMU of guiding the Green Wave to its second bowl bid in 15 years. Inheriting a team that had won three American Athletic Conference games through its first two years in the league, he matched that mark this season, and Tulane finished 5-7 overall for its second-highest victory total since 2004.
That momentum has continued in recruiting. With Wednesday’s national signing day looming, the Wave ranked tied for 56th in the Rivals.com recruiting rankings as of Monday afternoon, with 10 3-star commitments. No Tulane signing class has rated higher than 60th since the website began compiling national rankings in 2002, and no Wave class since Katrina has been higher than 77th.
Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports first reported Fritz’ impending extension this weekend in a tweet.
Although Tulane never released the specifics of Fritz’ original contract, the university source said it was for six years through 2021 and paid him more than $1 million annually. No Green Wave football coach had earned $1 million in a season until Fritz.
Before coming to Tulane, Fritz had 21 winning seasons in 23 years as a head coach, spending four years at Blinn Junior College, 13 at Division II Central Missouri, four at Sam Houston State of the Football Championship Subdivision and two at Georgia Southern of the Football Bowl Subdivision.
This is the first time in his career he has endured back-to-back losing records, but he remained positive when he talked about the season last week. Tulane beat perennial AAC contender Houston and 10-win Army at Yulman Stadium, lost at Navy by 2 points and fell 41-38 to SMU when officials marked quarterback Jonathan Banks an inch short of the goal line as time ran out on Nov. 25.
“We aspire to be a consistent winner and a top-20 program here,” Fritz said. “Our margin for error is really small. We’ve just got to keep improving. We’ve got to develop the guys that are here. We have to bring in better athletes each and every season, and that will get us over the hump.”
An hour after the controversial loss to SMU, Dannen spoke glowingly of Fritz.
“The program's set nicely to move forward,” he said. “It's close to being where we all want it to be, and we've seen that four times, when it's come down to the last play or inside the last minute. If you go back a year ago, we weren't in that situation. The next step is to turn those last minutes in your favor.”
From 2014 through 2016, Tulane lost 10 AAC games by 24 or more. This year, four of the Wave’s five conference defeats were by a combined 12 points.
Junior safety Roderic Teamer expects the turnaround to continue next season.
“As long as coach Fritz is our head coach, I feel like the future's bright,” he said after the SMU loss. “We're going in the right direction. We have talented guys. We are going to have another good recruiting class coming in, so I'm confident in our program.”
Two More Commitments
Tulane’s prospective signing class has risen to 22 with the commitments of Warren Easton defensive back Damien Tate and Hampton (Georgia) Dutchtown cornerback Chris Joyce. Both are projected as cornerbacks in college.
Tate, the third New Orleans product in the class and a former McNeese State commitment, was lightly recruited because of his size (5-foot-10, 172-pounds) but became one of the top playmakers in the area, dominating games as a free safety. Warren Easton led district rival and eventual state champion Karr 12-6 entering the fourth quarter of the Class 4A semifinals before losing 20-12.
Joyce (5-foot-11, 175 pounds), who had an offer from Tennessee at one point, excelled on defense and played key roles on offense and special teams for Dutchtown, which is in Georgia’s third largest classification. H showed his versatility by rushing five times for 134 yards and two touchdowns in a season-ending playoff loss.