Tulane poised to follow up special season with more big success

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Michael Pratt
(Photo: Parker Waters)

There were a lot of high water marks for the 2022 Tulane football team.

The Green Wave won 12 games for the second time in school history. Tulane played in a New Year’s Day bowl for the first time since the January 1940 Sugar Bowl.

The program won the school’s first conference championship since 1998 and first conference championship game ever.

But now there’s another mountain to climb.

Tulane has never won a combined 20 games over two seasons in school history.

A total of 19 wins in two seasons has been done twice (by Tommy Bowden’s Green Wave in 1997 and 1998 as well as by Bernie Bierman’s Wave in 1930 and 1931).

The Green Wave threatened in 1974. Coming off a 9-3 season, Tulane won its first five games before starting quarterback Steve Foley suffered a broken leg in a game against Georgia Tech at Grant Field. The Wave lost their last six.

Fast forward 49 years later, and the schedule is favorable in Tulane’s pursuit of a second consecutive American Athletic conference championship.

Of the five schools with winning conference records, only Tulane and SMU remain. This summer, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston depart for the Big 12.

Tulane could be favored in as many as 11 of its 12 regular season games this fall. A week two game against Ole Miss at Yulman Stadium could possibly be the one game on the early schedule that Wilie Fritz’s team is an underdog.

One of the reasons why Tulane has been unable to cobble together back to back great seasons is because the head coach and the quarterback left after a stellar year.

In 1979, Tulane won nine games led by head coach Larry Smith and senior quarterback Roch Hontas. Smith appeared to be on the verge of building an accomplished program, but then departed in the spring of 1980 for the University of Arizona.

Senior quarterback Shaun King led Tulane to an undefeated season in 1998. Head coach Tommy Bowden resigned at the end of the regular season and did not coach the Green Wave in a Liberty Bowl win over BYU.

On the first day of 2023 spring football, quarterback Michael Pratt, the subject of transfer rumors during the season, said he was up to 225 pounds and feeling better than at any time in his Tulane career.

Pratt revealed that he played the last five games of the season with a fractured heel.

“My real concern was it was going to get worse,” said Pratt. “It was on that heel where the achilles (tendon) attaches. That was my concern, if the whole bone ripped off it would be a year recovery.”

Fritz addressed the transfer rumors, noting that Tulane never contacts a player until they are in the transfer portal. He acknowledged nefarious contact by representatives of other schools.

Reporter: When that happens, whate do you do?

Fritz: I call the head coach myself.

Four out of five starters return on the offensive line, and even without Tyjae Spears, the running back group led by Shaadie Clayton-Johnson and Iverson Celestine looks solid.

Offensive coordinator Slade Nagle, who called much of the offense a year ago, now has the title to go along with the responsibility.

“I thought at the end of the year, we were clicking (on offense),” said Nagle.

The new defensive coordinator is Shiel Wood, who held the same position last season at 12-win Troy.

Wood’s defense was ranked eighth in the country, allowing 17.1 points per game.

Wood talked about the opportunity at Tulane. His synopsis of the program spoke volumes about just how far Tulane football has come, in one season.

“Anytime you are able to step in and join an organization, that has achieved a high level of success, that is an extraordinary opportunity,” said Wood. “That was part of the allure for this opportunity at Tulane for sure.”

Suddenly, Tulane is a garden spot in college football.

With a returning star quarterback and coach plus the solid cast around them, more history could be written by Tulane football.

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Ed Daniels

WGNO Sports Director/106.1 FM

Ed is a New Orleans native, born at Baptist Hospital. He graduated Rummel High School, class of 1975, and subsequently graduated from Loyola University. Ed started in TV in 1977 as first sports intern at WVUE Channel 8. He became Sports Director at KPLC TV Channel 7 in Lake Charles in 1980. In 1982 he was hired as sports reporter…

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