Preview 2017: Tulane’s Willie Fritz Fix
Head coach Willie Fritz knows how to come up with winning seasons – Tulane is due for one.
Willie Fritz isn’t good at this whole losing thing.
His 1997 Central Missouri Mules went 5-6 in his first season as a head coach, and his 2006 squad also came up with just five wins. That was it, though, with 17 winning seasons in 19 years, and then he took over the Tulane gig.
And he came up with the worst season of his coaching career.
You don’t win as many games as Fritz has – going to two FCS National Championships with Sam Houston State and cranking up a Georgia Southern offense to a special level – without knowing what you’re doing. But Tulane needed some work.
There was just one winning season and bowl appearance since 2002, and as good as Fritz is, he wasn’t going to change the place around overnight.
His dominant spread-option attack – that’s versatile enough to do just about anything it needs to – didn’t have the right pieces in place. That was expected when he first took over, but the Green Wave still finished 26th in the nation in rushing.
And almost dead-last in passing.
The defense did its part, allowing almost 50 fewer yards per game than it did in 2015. The turnover margin was better, the time of possession great, and the penalties weren’t all that big a deal.
But the team wasn’t able to do much of anything in conference play, with the regular-season ender over a UConn team with a lame-duck coaching staff the lone American Athletic win.
This season, Fritz and his staff should be able to get Tulane on the right track, with plenty of experience on both sides of the ball, and improvement in some key areas.
The defense that came up with such a strong year returns seven starters, including an excellent secondary and enough talent in the front six of the 4-2-5 alignment to expect at least a repeat of the 2016 production. Tulane can win with this defense – now it’s up to that Fritz offense to start doing what it’s supposed to.
The O line might not be good enough to lead the way to a massive year – at least not the numbers Fritz’s attacks came up with at Georgia Southern and Sam Houston State – but if it’s okay, the running game will be solid again, and the passing game can’t be any worse.
With Kansas State transfer Jonathan Banks pushing for the quarterback job, a few decent receivers waiting to show what they can do with more of a downfield attack, and good runners already in the mix, the offense will improve.
Tulane doesn’t need a massive fix – it needs tweaking. It needs just a little more time, and then Fritz and his staff should make the program a factor. It’s been a while, but the results are coming.