Troy Dannen has never lived, much less worked, anywhere except Iowa.
He has never spent time at a Football Bowl Subdivision school and never had any connection with a private college.
And, in his eight years as athletic director at his alma mater, Northern Iowa, Dannen never had to hire a football coach, his first order of duty as Tulane’s new athletic director.
Sounds like the perfect fit.
No wonder his hiring came out of left field.
“How many of you thought you’d be seeing some guy from Northern Iowa up here today?” he asked the assembled staff, media and fans at his introductory news conference Friday.
Honestly, it does seem a little strange that someone regarded as a rising star in his profession wouldn’t have his eye on another opening, such as the one next door at Illinois.
Heck, they might even be needing an AD in Baton Rouge soon.
But Dannen calls Tulane his “dream job.”
The search committee that recommended Dannen to school President Michael Fitts must have seen something they liked as well.
So give them — and Dannen — a big benefit of the doubt.
And after hearing Dannen speak — both to the group and one-on-one Friday — he deserves it.
Dannen’s talk to the assembly contained the most positive picture of what Tulane athletics can be we’ve ever heard. And even when pressed about his lack of connections to his new school, Dannen had a ready answer.
“There’s a formula for success,” he said. “And it doesn’t matter — FBS-FCS, public-private, big-small. It’s all about people. The key is getting the right people.”
Starting with a football coach, of course.
That’s not all Dannen has on his to-do list, but it’s way ahead of whatever’s second.
So, in the spirit of welcoming New Orleans’ newest citizen and his family, here are three handy hints for success:
1. Hit on that football hire.
Few incoming ADs are presented with such a challenge, but Dannen knew the situation coming in, and that’s about all he’ll be doing until he finds his man.
Doug Hertz, chairman of the athletics search committee, acknowledged Friday that membership in the American Athletic Conference has greatly raised the bar from just four years ago.
Tulane isn’t going to pay its new coach $3 million, as Houston is doing to keep Tom Herman, but something in the $2 million range is doable, along with increased salaries for assistants.
There’s also an acknowledgment that facilities such as the weight room need upgrading and academic standards need tweaking.
It’s either do that or be further embarrassed.
With that in hand, Dannen is dealing from strength more than Rick Dickson did with his two hires.
The trend, both nationally and in the AAC, has been offensive-minded coaches, especially young offensive coordinators such as 34-year-old Mike Norvell from Arizona State just hired by Memphis.
Oklahoma OC Lincoln Riley should be on Dannen’s short list. And if he wants someone more experienced, Ruffin McNeill, fired Friday after six years (and five bowl appearances) at East Carolina, deserves an interview.
2. Find a spark for basketball.
Tulane played host to UNO on Tuesday, and there was no more than 750 people in the building, at least a third of them Privateers fans. That’s wrong on a lot of levels.
The AAC is a big-boy basketball conference, and Tulane is drawing high school-sized crowds in a high school-sized gym.
There may not be much of anything Dannen can do to stir interest in college basketball in a city that doesn’t care about it. But coming from the school he’s leaving, you can be assured he will be paying careful attention.
“Winning lights a lot of fires,” Dannen said. It’s a start.
3. Reconnect with the community.
Easier said than done, considering that 75 percent of the alumni live out of state and local attention has withered away over the decades for a variety of reasons.
This isn’t Cedar Falls, where Northern Iowa athletics is a big deal. Most folks here are into the Black and Gold, the Purple and Gold or both.
Tulane is playing football in an on-campus stadium whose size and usage is restricted by its neighbors. That’s how much local respect Tulane athletics gets these days.
And there aren’t 30,000 potential fans out there just waiting for Tulane to win again. That day is past.
But Friday, Dannen talked about how important it is to create an atmosphere of interest in Tulane, enough to make people interested enough to come to games.
Unlike Dickson, who out of necessity spent much of his time in recent years on the road fundraising, Dannen seems like the kind of person who is willing to promote Tulane athletics on a local level any way he can.
That includes, Hertz said, having a beer at Bruno’s if there are five fans who want to talk Tulane sports.
Take ’em up on that, Troy. With the job ahead of you, you’re going to need a beer or two.