It would be understandable if Justin McMillan’s head were spinning at the start of Tulane’s spring drills.
Will Hall’s arrival means McMillan, who led the Green Wave to five wins in six games after becoming the full-time starting quarterback last fall, has operated under the dizzying array of a half-dozen offensive coordinators in his college career.
Yet he pronounced himself dazzled after Tuesday’s opening practice.
“I love it,” he said. “I feel like this is one of the most versatile and diverse offenses I’ve been in, probably between (Hall) and coach (Matt) Canada (LSU’s coordinator in 2017). It's up-tempo and has a good pace, and you can get in a really good rhythm as a quarterback.”
McMillan’s long list of tutors started with Cam Cameron at LSU in 2015 and 2016 under then-coach Les Miles. When Ed Orgeron replaced Miles in 2017, he brought in Canada for one season before firing him due to philosophical differences. Steve Ensminger was next in the spring of 2018, but McMillan ended that relationship by transferring to Tulane last August, playing for Doug Ruse in the fall.
Coach Willie Fritz released Ruse at the end of the regular season, and then- offensive line coach Alex Atkins served as the Wave’s coordinator for the Cure Bowl against UL before Fritz hired Hall in December.
McMillan wasted no time conducting his own research, checking with friends who played for Hall last year when he was the Memphis tight ends coach.
“I told them, 'Honest to God, tell me the truth,' and it was clean cut that he was a great guy,” McMillan said. “He’s shown us nothing but him being great for us so far. I'm thankful for coach Ruse bringing me to Tulane and helping me get situated, but right now I'm excited for this upcoming year.”
With 1,000-yard rusher Darius Bradwell and every other running back returning along with near-1000-yard receiver Darnell Mooney and talented Oklahoma State graduate transfer receiver Jalen McCleskey, the Wave is expecting bigger and better things from an offense that sputtered in each of Fritz’s first three seasons. Tulane ranked no higher than eighth in total offense or scoring offense in any of those years.
Hall’s task is to ratchet up the production across the board.
The first thing he did was pick up the pace from what had been a slow-moving offense.
“I had a 30-minute period scratched out for 40 plays, and we got it done in about 18 minutes, so I have to adjust the time periods,” Fritz said. “The same thing for seven-on-seven (drills). We (budgeted) 20 minutes for 30 plays and we got it done in about 11, so we’re just going a lot faster.”
Hall said the offense would be an amalgamation of what Fritz has run in the past, what he uses as a coach at West Alabama (2008-2013) and West Georgia (2014-16) and what Memphis did last season. His take on the first-day pace was a little different from Fritz’s and McMillan’s.
“We've thrown a lot of information at them in a short amount of time, and that causes you to play slow sometimes from a mental aspect,” he said. “We want to get them to where they're reacting and not thinking and you could tell a lot of times some of them were thinking.”
The presence of McMillan should help. Getting his first significant game experience after riding the bench at LSU, he threw for 10 touchdowns and rushed for five more just a few months after joining the team in late August. Entering his final year as a starter for the first time, he figures to improve on his 51.3-percent completion rate (79 of 154).
“He's hungry,” Hall said. “He wants to prove that he can be a big-time quarterback, but the fact that he's won five out of six and took us to a Western division (co-)championship gives our team confidence and gives us a little bit of stability.”
The feeling is mutual. McMillan singled out Hall’s playing experience as a quarterback, when he set a National Junior College Athletic Association record for total offense in a season (4,075 yards) with Northwest Mississippi Community College and won the Harlan Hill Trophy as the best player in Division II at North Alabama.
“It's nothing for him to get all fidgety and pick up a ball and throw it,” McMillan said. “He was out there warming up with us earlier. It's literally a breath of fresh air to have a coach like that. I'm just thankful to have him in my last year.”