While he is unsure exactly what Tulane’s offense will look like next year, coach Willie Fritz made clear on Sunday what it will not resemble.
Forget about a return to the ground-bound approach he used in two years at Georgia Southern and even for much of his initial season with the Green Wave. He said he always would emphasize a strong running game, but he stressed the importance of balance when he talked about his search for a new offensive coordinator as Tulane began preparing for its Dec. 15 matchup with Louisiana-Lafayette in the Cure Bowl.
“I want to be a 50-50 team,” he said. “We’re not all of a sudden going to become an air raid team that throws 65 times a game, all that stuff, but I’m open to tempo.”
The Green Wave, which earned a bowl game by beating Navy on Saturday, has ranked in the bottom half of the American Athletic Conference in all three years of Ruse's tenure under coach Willie Fritz.
Tulane approached a 50-50 split in yards this season, averaging 208.2 yards rushing and 186.1 yards passing. Still, Fritz fired offensive coordinator Doug Ruse three days after Tulane (6-6) beat Navy to become bowl eligible in its regular-season finale. The decision ended a seven-year partnership that started at Sam Houston State, continued at Georgia Southern and moved to New Orleans.
In his three years at Tulane, Ruse’s offense never finished higher than eighth among the American Athletic Conference’s 12 teams in yards or scoring. Despite having time to mold the roster to fit the scheme, the Wave barely averaged more points this season (25.7) than in his first (24.1), scoring 30 or more only three times.
Fritz said he would keep an open mind when he interviewed replacement candidates.
“I’m sure I’ll hear some good ideas and make a good decision about the direction we’ll go in,” he said. “I still want to incorporate some option elements in our offense, but this is a great opportunity for me to learn more football. I love getting in these interviews and hearing these things. If you get a bunch of good (candidates), it’s a hard decision. I hope it’s a very difficult decision.”
Fritz offered few specifics, but his commitment to a balanced offense would appear to rule out Georgia Southern offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse.
DeBesse, who as offensive coordinator at Sam Houston State in 2010 and 2011 helped create the shotgun-based, option-tinged spread offense associated with Fritz, has become almost totally run-centric since leaving the Bearkats for New Mexico in 2012. The Lobos ranked among the bottom seven in the NCAA in passing yards for all six years of his mostly successful tenure.
Fired at the end of 2017, he hooked on with Georgia Southern, which has averaged fewer than 10 passes this season.
Fritz is looking to the future rather than the past.
“A bunch of people have applied for this position,” he said. “That’s a good problem to have. I’m trying to really work (interviews) with four, five or six guys, but I’ve been really happy with the people who have applied.”
Fritz said Sunday the Cure Bowl was his first choice among the contests that considered the Green Wave.
He also anticipates a good showing in the Cure Bowl from interim offensive coordinator Alex Atkins, who added a fourth title to his job as assistant head coach, offensive line coach and run game coordinator.
“He’s chomping at the bit,” Fritz said. “He’s never had an opportunity to call (plays). This will give him some real good experience as well. I’m sure he’s going to take some suggestions from our other offensive staff as well as the head coach.”
Tulane’s first weekend of official visits already has netted two commitments who had offers from Power Five schools.
Levi Williams, a 6-foot-0, 180-pound cornerback from Valrico (Florida) Bloomingdale High, tweeted his commitment on Sunday night. He committed and de-committed to Iowa State in June and also attracted interest from West Virginia.
Armoni Dixon, a 6-foot-3, 218-pound outside linebacker from Wilmette (Illinois) Loyola Academy, tweeted his commitment on Monday after considering Syracuse and Cincinnati among others. Illinois is well outside Tulane’s normal recruiting area, but the Wave made an exception for Dixon, who helped Loyola win the Class 8A state championship as the defense allowed a total of 19 points in four playoff games.
Williams and Dixon, both rated 3 stars by 247Sports and 2 stars by Rivals.com, are Tulane’s ninth and 10th commitments. An 11th prospect, Navarre (Florida) wide receiver Dante Wright, de-committed Monday.
Fritz said Sunday he hoped to get close to a full class of 25 by the Dec. 19 early signing date.
The Cure Bowl kickoff will be 12:30 Central time, not 1:30 as was erroneously listed in The Advocate and numerous national web sites on Monday. The earlier time will make it the first FBS bowl of the season, beating the New Mexico Bowl by 30 minutes. … Tulane is playing in the Eastern time zone for the first time in 12 bowl trips.