If only more Tulane games over the past four seasons had been like this:
An offense that executed with efficiency and came up with the surprise that worked.
A defense that at least made the other team work hard for everything it got.
Special teams units that helped rather than hurt the effort.
If all that were true, Curtis Johnson wouldn’t be losing his job within the next day or so.
But it’s not.
Despite an exceptional effort when the circumstances on both sides of the ball would have projected it not to be, after Friday’s come-from-ahead 45-34 loss to Tulsa on Senior Night at Yulman Stadium, Johnson’s tenure at Tulane is over.
What makes the result more heart-wrenching is that Tulsa scored three touchdowns in the final 6:45, two of them on pick sixes off fifth-year senior Jordy Joseph, a former walk-on who has making his second career start.
“Great game, great game,” said Johnson, upbeat to the end. “I was so proud of the way my team played.
“They came out and played as well as they could possibly play. I was shocked at the end.”
After last week’s dismal showing in a 49-21 loss at SMU, word coming out earlier this week that Johnson was being fired and the fact that Tulsa was playing for bowl eligibility, a desultory effort by Tulane would have been no surprise.
Instead, the Wave gave up a quick touchdown on the visitors’ first possession, but was in command after that — at least until the closing minutes.
As it was, Tulane was 16 yards away from retaking the lead in the final 90 seconds before Kolton Shindelar’s 91-yard interception return sealed it.
But even if the Wave could have pulled off the upset. Friday’s result won’t change things for Johson.
He’s 15-34 overall, 6-15 over the last two seasons and 3-13 in the American Athletic Conference in that same span.
Sometime over the weekend, Johnson is expected to meet with outgoing Athletic Director Rick Dickson to receive the news he is being let go.
That’s in order to clear the decks for a new athletic director to hire the next coach without having to begin his or her tenure with a firing.
The AD hiring will happen no earlier than Wednesday. How long the coaching search takes is anybody’s guess, but it’s already unofficially under way.
You haven’t heard many protests about the decision to fire Johnson.
Chalk that up to a new impatience to win in college football, fueled by the College Football Playoffs that makes anything less at schools like LSU seen as a failure and the increased TV exposure and influx of media money that has schools on Tulane’s level at least putting themselves in position to be competitive in their conference.
That’s why the next coaching hire will demonstrate just how serious Tulane is about being in that number.
Yulman might provide on-campus tailgating after a four-decade stay in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the amenities of the Glazer Family Club for those who would rather schmooze during the game than watch what’s happening down on the field.
But eventually you’ve got to have a product on that field that is achieving a reasonable amount of success to justify the money spent on bricks and mortar.
To show how competitive the fledgling AAC has proved to be, Tulsa’s victory gave the league eight bowl-eligible teams and East Carolina can make it nine by beating Cincinnati on Saturday. Last year there were six.
Also, the champion will get the Group of Five berth in a New Year’s Six bowl — either the Peach or Fiesta.
Tulsa, which fired its coach last season two years after winning the Conference USA title, is an example of the mindset of the rest of the league
So we’ll see what happens with this hire by Tulane.
Meanwhile, take no pleasure in the dismissal of Johnson, and most likely 20 or so other staff members.
These are all men with families.
And while changing jobs is part of the business, it can never be easy when it isn’t by choice.
Johnson wasn’t addressing that issue Friday.
Likewise, the players had little to say on the matter.
“We can only control what we can control.” Joseph said. “That’s up to other people.”
And Johnson gave no valedictory speech.
“He just told us to get ready to work next year,” sophomore running back Dontrell Hillard said.
What Johnson didn’t add — and didn’t have to — is that it will be under someone else.