The Glazer Family Club at Tulane’s Yulman Stadium was the scene Monday of something it had never witnessed before: an NCAA baseball tournament selection show watching party.
Being that the facility has been open for less than a year, it’s pretty obvious that had to be the case.
But it had been seven long years since the Green Wave coaches, players and fans had reason to gather anywhere in anticipation of hearing their school’s name revealed on the big board.
Small wonder the team, along with everyone else present, let out a roar that could have been heard upriver where the Wave will meet UNC-Wilmington on Friday in the opening round of the Baton Rouge regional.
And while at one time just getting into the NCAA tournament was far from the minimal expectation for Tulane baseball, it did mark a significant level of accomplishment under first-year coach David Pierce.
Pierce’s hiring came after the painful but necessary parting of the ways with Rick Jones, who had to step down due to medical reasons after 21 seasons. Few in the coaching professional get to choose the time when it ends, even deserving ones like Jones. But bringing in Pierce marked a significant change in the school’s hiring practices when it came to coaches.
Instead of settling for who could be afforded — or who would take on a probable losing scenario — Athletic Director Rick Dickson went out and got a person with the ideal résumé: nine years as a top assistant to Wayne Graham at Rice, plus three years of running his own shop at Sam Houston State, where his teams earned three straight at-large bids.
That’s not easy to do out of the Southland Conference, but Pierce’s experience in scheduling led him to do something that probably made the difference in Tulane getting in: an upgrading of opponents that eliminated all but UNO from those with RPIs under 200.
The result: Tulane made the tournament at 34-23, the lowest winning percentage in the Wave’s 20 NCAA appearances.
Squeezing out that many victories from a roster made up of holdovers from last year’s 23-29 team plus an incoming class recruited entirely by the previous staff wasn’t easy.
The Wave hit only .252, seventh in the eight-team American Athletic Conference. But that was up from .226 a year ago.
And if 4.3 runs per game, also seventh in the AAC, doesn’t sound like much, consider that a year ago it was 3.3.
That shows that somebody’s in the dugout who, out of necessity, knows how to win the close ones (9-4 in one-run games) and has his players believing in him because of the much-needed positive energy Pierce and his staff brought to the program.
It’s remindful of 1994, when Jones replaced Joe Brockhoff after a losing season and got the Wave to a regional — kickstarting his long, and until the last few years, successful run that ended with his only losing season.
That’s no guarantee that the Wave will again reach the success level it did under Jones. But the program is much better shape than it was.
So, Pierce is a keeper.
And with the Baylor job coming open Sunday with the firing of Steve Smith, Dickson would do well to consider a contract extension for a coach who had never lived anywhere outside of Texas until this season.
But listening to Pierce on Monday, it seems he has no intention of leaving anytime soon. In fact, he went out of his way to thank the administration for delivering the support that was promised him.
That’s significant, because if Tulane is to compete in the AAC, it can’t skimp by. That’s a commitment that was made even before the then-Big East extended its unexpected invitation in 2012, starting with the going forward with the football stadium.
Comparatively speaking to recent results, the Wave’s first year in the league has been a good one. Along with baseball’s return to the NCAA regionals, women’s basketball made its first tournament appearance since 2010.
Men’s basketball took a step back, record-wise, but the Wave was certainly competitive in a much-better league than Conference USA had become. And the vastly increased TV exposure is given much of the credit for the best recruiting class in years.
Tulane didn’t win any championships in the other sports, but neither was the Wave awful in any, save volleyball.
Of course, there’s football. The record regressed from 7-6 to 3-9, but that was expected.
There are a lot of questions about the program entering Curtis Johnson’s fourth season. They need to be answered positively — and we’re talking bowl eligibility — or the Yulman Stadium seats will be as empty as they were during Monday’s baseball announcement.
Otherwise, we’ll see just how serious Tulane is about accountability. Because in the long run, nothing matters but football.
Monday, though, was baseball’s day, and it was a good one. And so should it be this weekend.
The fans will get a chance to show their support in far more numbers than would have been the case if the team had been sent elsewhere. That’s also good for the program.
Barring something decidedly unexpected, the Wave won’t make it past the regional round.
But considering how long it had been since Tulane had gotten just this far — and that it’s been 10 years since the No. 1-rated Wave last went to Omaha — that’s something worth celebrating.
Editor's note: This story was changed May 26 to note Tulane and former coach Rick Jones parted ways last season because of medical reasons.