Q&A with Troy Dannen: Tulane’s new athletic director talks expectations, rekindling the rivalry with LSU and what he sees in the future of Green Wave sports _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SHERRI MILLER

Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen

OK, Tulane baseball fans.

By a show of hands, how many of you had heard of Travis Jewett this time a week ago?

Me neither.

But then again, you probably had never heard of Willie Fritz when Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen hired him as football coach in December.

Heck, we didn’t even know who Dannen was when he was hired just a few weeks before that.

Jewett, who spent the past four seasons as an assistant at Vanderbilt, is expected to be introduced as Tulane’s new baseball coach as early as Monday.

His résumé seems to say he’s a good pick, even if he’s not the safe pick.

But if there is one thing we’ve learned about Dannen in his seven months on the job, it’s that he isn’t concerned about the safe pick — or the popular one.

He easily could have one of two former Green Wave players who interviewed: LSU assistant Andy Cannizaro or Southeastern Louisiana head coach Matt Riser.

Both Cannizaro and Riser have strong ties to the program and have résumés that looked fitting for the job.

Cannizaro, a former All-America shortstop, is one of the more popular players in program history and got strong recommendations from LSU’s Paul Mainieri.

Riser, meanwhile, played for the Wave as well and has made his mark in Hammond, leading Southeastern to its second NCAA tournament appearance in three years this season. Even more impressive, the Southland Conference Lions made it to the tournament with an at-large bid, which speaks volumes about the stamp Riser has put on the program.

Bringing either of those two back to their old stomping grounds would have been a popular choice for Dannen. But he showed again that he doesn’t mind thinking outside the box.

He did it with Fritz, a 21-year coaching veteran who had never led a major program when Dannen picked him for the Wave. Fritz’s only experience at a Football Bowl Subdivision school was when he took over at Georgia Southern in 2014.

Dannen did it again in March when he hired former NBA coach Mike Dunleavy, who has never coached Division I basketball. Dannen said after hiring Dunleavy that he was looking for somebody with a defibrillator in his pocket to “shock a sleeping giant back into life.”

That’s also what he needed for football. The baseball program, though, isn’t asleep. It’s wide awake.

David Pierce, who left for greener pastures to take over at Texas, left the program in good shape. Tulane is coming off its second straight NCAA tournament appearance after making it to the Oxford regional this season.

The team finished 41-21 and won the American Athletic Conference regular-season crown. The Wave lost some key pieces, but it now turns the keys over to a guy who’s known for finding pieces.

Jewett, whose only head coaching experience came in the junior college ranks, was Vandy’s recruiting coordinator and hitting coach for the past four seasons. He seems to hit home runs on the recruiting trail time and again, helping Vandy sign the No. 1 recruiting class in the country the past two years.

He seems to have an eye for talent, as evidenced in the 2015 MLB draft. He’s responsible for recruiting a stellar Vanderbilt group that included nine draft picks and three first-rounders.

He had three more players drafted in the first two rounds this June. That doesn’t include 67 players drafted during his stops as an assistant at Gonzaga, Washington, Washington State and Arizona State.

He’s also a proven offensive coach. As Vandy’s hitting coach, he was responsible for an offense that belted 69 home runs in 2015, the most the school hit in 17 years.

Can Jewett have that same type of success at Tulane?

Can Fritz? Can Dunleavy?

Dannen sure hopes so.

Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.