New Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen admitted Friday that he approached the search process with a little trepidation.
He interviewed the people interviewing him to make sure they gave the right answers about their commitment to winning. Given the Green Wave’s dismal record in football and basketball since the turn of the century, his concern was understandable.
Clearly, both sides heard exactly what they wanted to hear.
“I want to have it all,” Dannen said at his introductory news conference in the Glazer Room at Yulman Stadium. “And we are going to have it all.”
Dannen, who spent the past seven years as athletic director at his alma mater, Northern Iowa, is taking over a program starved for success after 13 losing football seasons in the 16-year tenure of predecessor Rick Dickson. The basketball team has not reached the NCAA tournament since 1995 or even the NIT since 2000, but Dannen’s first task is finding a football coach to replace Curtis Johnson, who was fired last Saturday at the end of a four-year stint when he went 15-34.
“The search will be as quick as it needs to be,” he said. “When we find the right person, we’ll hire the right person. It may be a day from now or a week from now. We will not rush it. This is certainly the most important thing I’ve done in my career from a hiring standpoint.”
Dannen was the first of seven candidates who interviewed with the search committee two weeks ago in Atlanta, and he made a lasting impression.
“When we reviewed the qualifications and the personal characteristics, and all the things we were really looking for, every box got checked by Troy,” athletic director search committee chairman Doug Hertz said. “The last three, four or five (candidates) we talked to, all of them would have done a good job, but we kept coming back to Troy Dannen.”
Dannen showed why in a 12-minute speech after school President Michael Fitts introduced him, interspersing humor with high confidence. He joked that he was putting up a snow blower for sale and would not bring any of his purple-and-gold Northern Iowa gear anywhere near New Orleans.
He also indicated he would not settle for second-tier status as he looked for a football coach.
“We will get this done,” he said. “This is probably the greatest opportunity for some coach out there that they’ll ever have. It’s certainly the greatest opportunity I’ve ever had. The reason this is a great opportunity because we haven’t had (success), and we all want it and we’re all committed to getting it.”
The reaction to Dannen’s hiring was generally positive from a fan base beaten down by Tulane’s near-constant losing.
“I’m excited more so that he cares about wins and losses,” said fan Tim Sweeney, who attended Friday’s introduction. “As a diehard Tulane fan growing up and attending the university, the wins have been too few and far between. I’m excited about the future, and hopefully we have the same success as Northern Iowa has had.”
Northern Iowa advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 in 2010 — something Tulane has never done — and came a game short of duplicating that feat last season. The Panthers have reached the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in four of the past seven years.
“He’s had success, even if it’s not at the FBS level,” said Tom Barone, another long-time Tulane supporter. “We’ll see what happens. I’m kind of taking the wait-and-see approach. I guess I’ll make another decision after I see where this football coaching search ends.”
Dannen sees only potential there, saying the move to the American Athletic Conference from Conference USA made Tulane imminently more attractive to top-notch candidates and that the Wave would not be priced out of a competitive market. He added his research left him optimistic everything he needed already was in place.
“I don’t know what impediments were here, but I know what impediments to look for, and none of them flagged as I was in the process,” he said. “I talked to people all over the country about Tulane and asked, ‘Can Tulane win in this league?’ Nobody identified the impediments that exist as compared to a Rice or a Vanderbilt. People that I really trust around the country are very optimistic about the ability to get things going here.”
Dannen said he was excited to work with deputy athletic director/chief operating office Barbara Burke, whom he beat out for the job, and added the two already agreed on a volleyball coach to pursue for that vacant position.
He said he would sit down with men’s basketball coach Ed Conroy after the football search ended to discuss what needed to change for Conroy to be successful.
After living all 48 years of his life in Iowa, he won’t have a calm transition to New Orleans. He and his wife, Amy, have four children — ages 20, 17, 2 and 1 — but they felt ready for the change
“We both wanted to be in a city. There were probably five that we knocked off together, and this was one of them,” Dannen said. “So when something was going to come up in New Orleans, it was going to get my attention.”