Since new Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen has never hired a football coach, it’s unclear what direction he will take as he seeks a successor to Curtis Johnson.
He offered some clues Friday at his introductory news conference, though, when asked whether he subscribed to the current trend of hiring hotshot offensive coordinators. After saying he was looking at young offensive minds, veteran head coaches and defensive coordinators, he gave an indication of his focus.
“I’ve looked at the high-end academic institutions nationally and when have they had success in their hirings,” he said. “You have to start looking at your peers as to what works.”
Dannen cited Duke, which has earned four consecutive bowl bids under former Ole Miss coach David Cutclifffe after reaching the postseason twice in 50 years; Northwestern, which hired alum and five-year Wildcats assistant Pat Fitzgerald and has won 10 games twice in the past four seasons; Stanford, which hired San Diego coach Jim Harbaugh from the Football Championship Subdivision ranks and leaped into national prominence; and Vanderbilt, which selected Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin and went to three straight bowls after going to one in the previous 28 years.
Dannen referred to Franklin as an “outlier” because he had not been a head coach or at Vanderbilt before. Still, he said he would consider “high-flying” offensive coordinators and already had talked to a couple of defensive coordinators.
Tulane’s competition for a coach has thinned considerably in the past week. American Athletic Conference foe Eastern Carolina is in the market after the surprise firing of Ruffin McNeill, but no other school is in the same pool. Bowling Green, which lost Dino Babers (to Syracuse), and Toledo, which lost Matt Campbell (to Iowa State), cannot afford to pay as much to Tulane, and neither can Louisiana-Monroe, which fired Todd Berry in November.
Using new Central Florida coach (and former Oregon offensive coordinator) Scott Frost as an example, Dannen insisted money would not be an issue for Tulane. Frost will be paid $1.7 million annually on a five-year contract.
“I wouldn’t have been afraid to go to Scott Frost,” Dannen said. “I could have put in front of Scott something that would have made him interested. From that standpoint, we’re going to be competitive. We’re not going to do what Houston just did (bumping up first-year coach Tom Herman to $3 million per year).
“But you know what? If we do what Houston’s doing right now, I think we can be in position to do what Houston just did. But you don’t start there.”
Current Football Bowl Subdivision coaches in demand include Appalachian State’s Scott Satterfield, who led the Mountaineers to a 10-2 record and a berth in the Camellia Bowl in his third year; Arkansas State’s Blake Anderson, who guided the Red Wolves (9-3) to the Sun Belt championship in his second year; third-year Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey, who has put the Huskies in the MAC title game every season and won it in 2014; second-year Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm, whose Hilltoppers just won Conference USA; and third-year Southern Miss coach Todd Monken, whose Golden Eagles lost to WKU in the C-USA title game.
Sources have told The Advocate that former Arkansas and Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt has pushed for the Tulane job, as has Akron coach Terry Bowden. That interest has not been mutual.
Nutt has been out of coaching since the end of 2011. Bowden has Akron (7-5) in the Potato Bowl in his fourth year, but all of the Zips’ victories came against teams with losing records, and they failed to score more than 12 points in their losses.
Dannen is looking for the perfect fit.
“The one thing I’ve never been is the smartest person in the room,” he said. “I’ve always surrounded myself with good people, empowered them and let them go, and that works. The key is getting the right people. That’s why this coaching position is so important. It’s having the right person. I only get one chance at this.”
NOTE: Tulane running backs coach David Johnson on Monday accepted the same position at Memphis under new coach Mike Norvell. Before joining the Green Wave, Johnson was head coach at St. Augustine High School.