Former Jesuit quarterback Tanner Lee says he likes new Tulane coach Willie Fritz and loves the three years he has spent with the Green Wave.
Ultimately, though, he decided Fritz’s run-based offense would not be the right fit, and Tulane granted him a release to transfer Thursday.
“I weighed my options and decided there would be something a little better for me,” said Lee, who started the past two years and will be a fourth-year junior in the fall. “How much time do I have to sit around, wait and see if it’s going to work out? I could have stayed there and played with my guys and still enjoyed myself, but it’s kind of a decision I had to make for myself.”
Lee announced the news in a tweet Thursday morning, writing it “was the hardest decision I’ve made thus far in my life.” He thanked his family, his coaches, Tulane fans and his teammates for their support, adding that “Green Wave Nation is in great hands” with Fritz and new athletic director Troy Dannen, signing off with “Roll Wave.”
After redshirting in 2013, Lee beat out Nick Montana in 2014 preseason drills and started the past two years for former coach Curtis Johnson, who frequently praised his strong arm.
Lee threw for 1,962 yards with 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 2014 and 1,639 yards with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. His career completion percentage was 53.9, and he missed five games because of various injuries — including a painful broken finger on his throwing hand. He tried to play through the pain at the end of the season before missing the finale.
Tulane went 3-9 in both of Lee’s seasons as a starter. The Wave went 7-6 and played in the New Orleans Bowl in 2013. Lee’s best game came at Houston in 2014, when he went 24 of 35 for 237 yards and three touchdowns as Tulane won 31-24.
The Wave never built on that performance, scoring a total of 16 points in three losses to end 2014 and 14 points or fewer seven times this season.
Although Lee expects a turnaround under Fritz, someone else will be at the controls of an offense that figures to rely heavily on quarterbacks making plays with their feet.
Lee, a pure pocket passer, rushed for minus-187 yards in two years, factoring in sacks.
“I don’t know if he (Fritz) knows yet exactly (what the offense will look like) because he’s just gotten on campus and doesn’t know the personnel, but I do believe they are going to run,” Lee said. “We have so many running backs, so that’s going to be great for them. I just don’t know if it was going to be the best move for me to stay and take that risk.”
Lee’s departure leaves fifth-year senior Devin Powell as the only Tulane quarterback with appreciable college experience. Powell started once this season, going 11 of 28 for 88 yards in a 42-7 loss to American Athletic Conference champion Houston. He led Tulane to victories in his other two career starts in 2013 but has a career completion percentage of 50.7.
Tulane’s remaining returning scholarship quarterback, third-year sophomore Glen Cuillette, played one down this season.
Lee said Fritz and Dannen tried to convince him to return but also offered his full support regardless of his decision.
“They were frank with me,” he said. “They said I could come in and compete in the spring and if I won the job, Fritz said no matter what, he’s always found a way to be successful with what he’s got. I believe that’s what he’s going to do.”
Darius Bradwell of Tallahassee (Fla.) Godby High will enroll for the spring semester, and Tulane could sign as many as two more quarterbacks in February. Among others, the Wave is recruiting Zachary’s Lindsey Scott, who committed to Syracuse last January before the school changed coaches at the end of this season.
Lee’s options are more limited. Unless he wins an unlikely hardship appeal he is considering, he will have to sit out a season if he transfers to an FBS program and would have one year of eligibility left in 2017.
He can transfer to an FCS school and play this year and next.
“I haven’t decided whether I want to go FBS or FCS really at all yet,” he said. “It’s just really whatever ends up being the best option. I plan on narrowing it down, talking with my family and making a decision pretty soon. The sooner the better, in my opinion, but it doesn’t have to be. If not, I’ll still be at Tulane for the spring to be in classes.”
Lee added he owed plenty to Johnson for being the first coach to offer him a scholarship. His biggest thrill was helping open on-campus Yulman Stadium, and his largest regret was failing to reach a bowl game.
“That was our goal every year, but I wouldn’t trade playing with those guys for anything in the world,” he said. “All my best friends go there now. I had a great time. I’ll always love Tulane.”