Few have risen the ranks in college football coaching over the last half-decade quite as fast as Willie Fritz. Just don’t mistake the new Tulane head coach’s meteoric rise with a flash in the pan.
Fritz will be formally introduced as the Green Wave’s new leader on Tuesday, following two successful seasons at Georgia Southern. Fritz brought the Eagles into Football Bowl Subdivision seamlessly after years atop the former Div. I-AA, winning 17 games and a Sun Belt Conference championship in his brief tenure. His run at Georgia Southern succeeded a four-year stint at Sam Houston State, where the Bearkats appeared in two national championship games, won a pair of Southland Conference titles and amassed 34 victories from 2011 through 2013.
In short order, Fritz compiled one of the most impressive resumes in the game, and his name was kicked around the coaching vacancy rumor mill much of the fall. But it was Tulane ultimately winning out, offering the next and biggest step in his odyssey.
“Willie was our number one target of this coaching search from the day it began,” athletic director Troy Dannen said via TulaneGreenWave.com. “We attracted significant interest from around the country but after meeting with the candidates it was clear Willie was the right fit for our institution and our football program. He has rebuilt three football programs and led each of those programs into national prominence at their respective level.”
While Fritz’s rise in Div. I began just five years ago with his debut season at Sam Houston State, he brings more than three decades of experience to Tulane. He is no overnight sensation, having paid his dues in the profession with stints coaching high schools and community colleges like Texas JUCO power Blinn, where we won two national championships.
Fritz’s success at Blinn helped him land his first, four-year university job at Div. II Central Missouri, where the coach spent 12 years and endured just two losing seasons.
In six campaigns at the Div. I level, Fritz has never finished below .500. That record stands in stark contrast to Tulane’s success of late, which has just one winning season since 2002: a 7-6 finish in 2013.
Tulane has toiled in mediocrity consistently since 1998. That season, which coincided with Fritz’s second on the job at Central Missouri, Tommy Bowden coached the Green Wave to a perfect regular season and threatened the Bowl Championship Series power structure in its infancy. Bowden spent just two seasons at Tulane, but scratched the surface on the program’s high potential. With its lofty academic credentials and location, amid the talent-rich recruiting pool of New Orleans, Tulane has plenty to offer as a football program. The incentive for meeting that potential just hasn’t been as prevalent as it is now.
The move to the American Athletic Conference before the 2014 season put Tulane in the most prominent spot the program had been since exiting the SEC after the 1965 campaign. A $75 million investment in on-campus Yulman Stadium ups the ante further, making this the perfect time to bring in a talented coach like Fritz.
— Troy Dannen (@TU_Dannen) December 12, 2015
His arrival brings with it some similarities to 1998.
Fritz is an innovative offensive mind, having overseen two uniquely schemed yet equally effective systems at Sam Houston State and Georgia Southern. SHSU ran a spread attack not unlike the system Rich Rodriguez guided as Tulane’s offensive coordinator in 1998. Georgia Southern flourished with a variation on the triple-option.
An option attack would suit Tulane’s needs nicely, giving the Green Wave a different look from most programs around college football. The option has already been proven successful in the American, with Navy finishing this regular season 10-2 running it.
Whether option or spread, Fritz’s 30 years in coaching make him easily adaptable to whatever best suits Tulane, though. It might not happen immediately, but Fritz’s track record says the Green Wave will end up on the right side of .500 soon.