In his six weeks as athletic director at Tulane, Troy Dannen has heard all of the reasons why the Green Wave got to the state it’s in — de-emphasis, leaving the Southeastern Conference, abandoning Tulane Stadium, Wally English, point shaving, not hiring Rich Rodriguez, the review, Katrina, etc.
To which Dannen responds, “My baseline is today. I know and appreciate the history, and I kind of understand the history, but my baseline is today.”
And, to Dannen, that new starting point ends with Tulane holding the same athletic status as its academic one, becoming the standard bearer for success in the American Athletic Conference and — when and if a “Power Five” conference, such as the Big 12 (commissioner Bob Bowlsby has been Dannen’s mentor), ever opens the books, having the Wave at the forefront of considerations.
“Whether it’s being competitive on the field or academically, in how we run the business part of this or how we host and manage championship events here, we want people to aspire to be Tulane,” he said. “We measure ourselves against the people we compete against, and we’re not taking a back seat to anyone.”
In other words, undo 60 years of history and not just restore Tulane to where it used to be athletically but make it better than it’s ever been.
Man, apparently some folks will say anything to escape another winter in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
But Dannen, whose only other college experience is eight years as athletic director at Northern Iowa, isn’t coming to New Orleans just to taste king cake for the first time. He sees this as a career-making opportunity.
“Obviously Tulane has its challenges,” he said. “But it also has the institutional ego to win. Ownership and accountability are what determines success in athletics, and we have that here. Regardless of how things may look today, I promise you we’re not going to take a back seat to anybody.”
Certainly that’s red meat to the core of Tulane fans who haven’t heard such bold statements from the school’s athletic leadership in memory.
Maybe they’re unattainable. Every other school in the AAC is working toward the same goals, and most have more resources.
Still, you’ve got to try.
And for a largely disinterested general public, Dannen has some attention-grabbing ideas.
How about challenging LSU to play the Wave in football again? Men’s basketball, too.
The old rivals haven’t met in football since 2009 when what was supposed to have been a 10-year home-and-home series was discontinued after four years because of its lack of competitiveness (combined score: 160-26) and a disheartening lack of enthusiasm by fans of both schools.
But seven years later, it’s time to revisit the idea.
Dannen’s willing to offer LSU all of the financial advantages just to get them together on the field again. And then he’d leave it up to the Tigers to respond.
Dannen also wants to stage a basketball event in the Smoothie King Center, bringing in one or two big-time schools. LSU could be in that picture, too, as well as an opponent in an SKC game.
In a city where college basketball has been an afterthought for some time, that might be overreaching. But at least he’s putting the idea out there.
Those are big events.
Dannen’s real task is to grab day-to-day attention for Tulane. Winning is the obvious place to start doing that.
In new football coach Willie Fritz, he has someone who has won in the Football Championship Subdivision and the Sun Belt Conference. Whether he can achieve that level of success at Tulane remains to be seen. But he’s already shaking things up, and that’s a start.
Dannen also declares that having Yulman Stadium instead of still being in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is a commitment from the school to bring other things in the program up to date, starting with a renovated weight room and meeting rooms.
“Our partnership with Tom Benson is a great asset because we can use (the Saints’) indoor facility, but it also takes bells and whistles to compete these days,” Dannen said. “If we stand still, people are not only going to fly past us, they’re going to be even further in front of us.”
Whether anything can be done for basketball as long as the team is playing in a 3,500-seat facility that screams rinky-dink to the caliber of players needed to compete in the AAC is up for debate.
But Dannen, who maintains that Devlin Fieldhouse is an asset and not a detriment, pledges to give that program the resources to win as well.
All of this takes money, of course, and while Rick Dickson concentrated on out-of-state heavy hitters to get projects like the football stadium and the basketball practice facility done, Dannen is quick to point out that local fans are going to have to do more than buy tickets if they want to avoid the morass of the past.
“We’re at the big-boy table now when it comes to college athletics.” Dannen said. “Enthusiasm and passion are great. But people also have to be willing to pay the price of where we’re at and where we want to be to be successful.”
You haven’t heard talk like that coming out of the leadership at Tulane in a long time.
Dickson is rightly credited with twice saving sports at Tulane — first dealing with the review and then dealing with the aftermath of the storm. He also got $100 million in improvements either completed or pledged following the storm.
But Dickson’s energy played out and, for the past three or four years, the department suffered for it.
Enter Dannen, whose enthusiasm comes as a shock to the system to many who have been in and around the Wilson Center for a while. It’s why you can expect some new faces in the coming months.
“It’s a different day at Tulane,” Dannen said.
Indeed it is.