Tulane’s spring football season opens Monday, but the most important transformation under new coach Willie Fritz started in February.
The competition that will take place in the 15 practices the NCAA allows pales in comparison to the “Making Waves” program that strength and conditioning coordinator Kyle Speer is administering at Fritz’s behest throughout the semester.
You want competition? Divided into six teams that were drafted by senior captains, the players are living it every day in almost every aspect of their life.
“This is probably the 16th year I’ve done it,” said Fritz, who tailors the name of the program to the school. “We give positive and negative points based on how they compete. If they set personal records in the weight room, they get points. If they are late to the weight room, they get minus points. If they miss a class, they get minus points. If they are early for tutoring, they get bonus points.
“Each week, the team that wins, we do something fun with them. This isn’t Little League, where everybody gets a trophy. And if you lose, there’s a price to pay for that, too.”
Speer, who has worked with Fritz since Fritz inherited him at Sam Houston State in 2010, elaborated on the concept. He said grades were worth positive and negative points. Community service counts in the scoring system. Even attire matters; anyone who enters the weight room wearing an ear ring, a watch or a necklace loses points for himself and his team.
Getting in trouble off the field costs points.
And in just about every activity Speer administers — mat drills, weightlifting reps and races — the six teams are competing with one another.
Player accountability started with the draft. The seniors picked the rest of their teammates in an open forum, with everyone knowing who was taken first and who was taken last.
“I put it up on the board for God and everybody to see: You were the last pick (of your team),” Fritz said. “That’s what your teammates think about you right now. They don’t think you’re dependable. They don’t think you’re accountable. We’re trying to get them to understand you can change people’s opinion of you.”
The rewards and punishments have been simple. The team that accumulates the most points during a week gets a special catered meal the players request — pizza, barbecue, whatever. The middle four teams get nothing. The lowest team has to run with Speer in the morning, in addition to any player with a negative point value from the other teams.
It doesn’t stop there. At the end of the semester, one team will be declared the overall winner. When the Green Wave travels in the fall, those guys will eat first. They also will get apparel that none of the other five teams receives.
Fritz’s objective with all of the competition is twofold.
“We’re trying to develop leaders, number one,” he said. “Guys want things done the right way. When they see something that’s not right, they go ahead and speak up. But we are also developing followers, which has a negative connotation in our society. You’ve got two ears and one mouth, so sometimes you should shut up and listen. If the plan sounds good, follow it.”
Speer singled out senior defensive tackle Tanzel Smart and senior linebacker Eric Thomas as two of his early favorites for their work ethic and desire. One thing is certain: With the points system and the way these coaches operate, the players will know exactly where they stand.
“Coach Fritz is an open book in his program,” Speer said. “He wants everybody to understand there are no secrets here. It changes behavior.”
Coaching staff complete
Tulane announced the final members of Fritz’s coaching staff late Sunday night.
They include a pair of Louisiana natives, Slade Nagle and Jamaal Fobbs, and Fritz reunites with Jeff Conway, Chris Hampton, Derrick Sherman and Chris Couch.
Nagle will coach tight ends, Fobbs will be running backs coach, Conway will oversee receivers, Hampton will coach defensive backs, Sherman will be an offensive assistant and Couch will be a special teams assistant.
Four downs: Tulane football enters spring practice
1. Looking for a quarterback
Freshman Johnathan Brantley won’t arrive until the fall, but the other three scholarship quarterbacks will make their first bid for the starting job. Senior Devin Powell struggled in his rare appearances the past two years and does not appear to be a good fit for what new coach Willie Fritz prefers to run. Redshirt sophomore Glen Cuiellette is a total unknown, having gotten on the field for one victory snap in his career. History says freshman Darius Bradwell, who enrolled for the spring semester, has a real shot: Fritz had a true freshman starting at quarterback in his first year at Sam Houston State in 2010.
2. Wide open almost everywhere
Fritz has made a point of not prejudging the players he inherited. Hardly anything is settled at any position, to be expected when a coach takes over a program that went 3-9 and was outscored 435-236. Other than defensive tackle, where Tanzel Smart and Sean Wilson return after excellent years, everyone is competing for a job. Fritz said he would not even bother with a depth chart for most of the spring. It’s a huge opportunity for everyone on the roster, including guys who did not get a chance under former coach Curtis Johnson.
3. The running game
Tulane had a wealth of quality running backs last season but accomplished little on the ground, primarily because of an inept offensive line but also because the backs kept rotating in and out without a chance to get into a rhythm. It will be interesting to see how Fritz, whose Georgia Southern teams led the nation in rushing the past two years, uses the different skill sets of Dontrell Hilliard, Sherman Badie, Lazedrick Thompson, Josh Rounds, Devin Glenn and redshirt freshman Nigel Anderson. A couple of them may be moved to slot back.
4. Fixing the special teams
Fritz handles all aspects of special teams in practice, and it did not take him long to identify one of Tulane’s most maddening issues: long snapping. He said last week that about five players would get a chance at that job in the spring. The Wave sabotaged any chance it to had to win under Johnson with a series of kicking debacles, including bad snaps, punters dropping good snaps, an inability to convert long field goals, kick coverage issues and the complete absence of a return game. Look for Fritz’s hands-on approach to make a huge difference.