Troy Dannen opened his news conference Monday by apologizing to the man he just fired.
Tulane’s athletic director insisted he never intended to leave basketball coach Ed Conroy twisting in the wind, the way did when reports of Conroy’s termination surfaced through the media during Tulane’s run to the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament over the weekend.
In his postgame news conference after a win over Houston on Friday night, Conroy said two people sitting behind the Tulane bench showed him reports that his firing was imminent. Tulane was roundly criticized the following day during ESPN2’s telecast of the Green Wave’s 74-54 loss to Memphis.
“It made me sick to my stomach,” Dannen said, referring to an internal leak. “Ed, his family, the guys on that team, this institution, everyone deserves better. And I have a problem to fix.”
Still, the decision to remove Conroy from his position was carried out Monday morning, ending his six-year tenure with a 92-103 record at the school. But Dannen readily admitted a new coach would not be a catch-all cure to the ills that have plagued Tulane’s basketball program since it last reached an NCAA tournament in 1995.
“Tulane University owes a debt of gratitude to coach Conroy for the six years of service he has given to our institution and our student-athletes,” Dannen said after meeting with Conroy on Monday morning. “He has consistently represented himself and our men’s basketball program with character and integrity, and has carried himself with class in all matters.”
Conroy’s tenure at Tulane includes two postseason appearances, the CollegeInsider.com Tournament in 2013 and CBI in 2014. Those appearances, however, were followed with losing records as Tulane went 15-16 last year before careening to the bottom of the standings and tallying the program’s worst record since 2000-01.
Under Conroy’s watch, spanning four seasons in Conference USA and two in the American, Tulane never finished better than .500 in conference play and went just 3-51 against conference opponents who finished the season with a winning league record.
“I would like to thank Scott Cowen and Rick Dickson for the opportunity to lead the Tulane men’s basketball program,” Conroy said. “My family and I feel blessed for the many friendships we have made and to have been part of the Tulane and New Orleans communities.
“I would like to thank my staff and all the players, including the 20 who earned their degrees during my tenure, who worked so hard to build our program and I would especially like to thank this year’s team for staying the course and growing so much throughout the process. Because of their efforts, I believe Tulane basketball is poised for great success in the future.”
Dannen, who replaced Rick Dickson as athletic director in December, mentioned major discrepancies between the Green Wave and its peers in the AAC in terms of travel, compensation and support, leading to the dearth of success on the floor.
The low investment, however, is partly due to a lack of interest. Tulane averaged just 1,800 fans at home games this season, significantly less than every other team in the conference.
Considering four coaches in the conference are making more than $2.5 million, Dannen admitted he can’t currently justify or afford to hire a coach who will be paid at the league’s upper echelon.
“I want someone who is a winner,” Dannen said. “I want somebody who can adapt to the kids, rather than force the kids who are a square peg to fit into a round hole. … We need a bit of a salesman. We need someone with some personality because part of the job, for both me and the new coach, is to sell this program back to our alums and back to the community.”
Dannen said he isn’t concerned about finding a coach who may eventually leave Tulane for a more high-profile job if he’s successful at Tulane. In fact, he values ambition and passion, understanding success from any coach will draw lucrative offers in a competitive industry.
That hasn’t been an issue for Tulane’s three coaches hired since 2001. Sean Finney, Dave Dickerson and Conroy were all terminated because of a lack of on-court success.
“If someone uses our job to step to the next place, that means we will have done something that we aren’t doing,” Dannen said. “At that point in time, then it’s on me to have hopefully made this job attractive enough and invested enough in salary that it isn’t a lesser job than our person is striving for.”
While no firm timetable for hiring a replacement was put in place, Dannen said he’d like to complete the search by the Final Four, which starts on April 2. He’s already ruled out Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson, whom Dannen re-signed when he was the Panthers’ athletic director from 2010-15.
Now, Tulane just needs to decide who can fix a program that’s been lost for more than 20 years.
“There’s an institutional commitment to success,” Dannen said. “There’s an expectation we succeed. This institution prides itself on being one of the top 40 universities, and it should expect no less out of its athletic department.”
Dannen will lead his second major coaching search since arriving at Tulane in December. He hired new football coach Willie Fritz his first month on the job, after declaring a strong preference for an experienced winner.
This time around, Dannen declined to outline his list of preferences and priorities, choosing to conduct the search quietly.
“We will immediately commence a search for our next head men’s basketball coach,” Dannen said. “The foundation which Ed has built combined with our recent move to the American Athletic Conference affords a great opportunity to achieve excellence on the court, in the classroom and in the community.”
TULANE COACHING HOT BOARD
Seth Greenberg, former Virginia Tech head coach – A high-profile coach who is on ESPN and is looking to get back into the sport.
Greg Gary, assistant coach at Purdue – The Tulane alumnus has made eight different stops, including Centenary as head coach.
Bryce Drew, head coach at Valparaiso – Would be difficult to lure from his alma mater, where he’s won four conference championships. He briefly played in New Orleans with the Hornets.
Matt Driscoll, head coach at North Florida– He’s won consecutive Atlantic Sun regular season championships with the Ospreys.
Scott Cherry, head coach at High Point – He’s won at least a share of the Big South championship the past four seasons, including two NIT berths.