The Tulane University football program has undergone a dramatic resurgence in the past two years, spurred by the hiring of former Saints receivers coach Curtis Johnson, the rapid construction of a new on-campus football stadium, and a commitment from a university administration involved in the intricacies of college football management on a national level.
We spoke with Roger Dunaway, the Assistant Athletic Director for Athletic Communications for Tulane Athletics, on the eve of the 2013 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. Saturday's game versus the UL-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns will be Tulane’s first bowl appearance in 11 years.
This is Tulane’s first bowl game in over a decade — what makes this year so different?
Well, I think just that. Just the fact that it’s been so long. Getting back to a bowl game in our head coach’s second year. It’s one of the biggest turnarounds in the nation this year, from a 2-10 season to 7-5 and playing in a bowl. And, on top of that, we’re playing in our own hometown. We’re playing in the Superdome, our home for the last 38 years, and it’ll be our last game in the Superdome as we’re moving to Yulman Stadium next year.
You brought in former Saints receivers coach Curtis Johnson to lead your team two years ago. What has he brought to this squad?
You know, he’s brought a confidence. He’s really had to change the culture. He brought a winning attitude. I think, when you take over a program that hasn’t done too well in a while, there are a lot of things you have to change off the field in order to be successful on the field, and he’s done that quickly.
After 38 years you’re in the process of building a new stadium right on campus — can you talk about how far along the process is, and what you’re looking to accomplish?
Well, it’s going to be 30,000 capacity. It’s scheduled to open next year. You know, the biggest thing with having a stadium on campus is it allows you to do your own thing with it, your own traditions. It’s convenient for your students, it’s convenient for your alumni… plus, from 1926 to 1974, we had an 80,000-seat Tulane Stadium not too far from where our new stadium will be.
There’s a lot of memories from our fans, who remember going to the stadium and watching Tulane football in that big stadium, so coming back to campus was something we needed to do. The Superdome is great, but you’ve got to share it — it’s not your home field, and it’s not as convenient for your students and your fans to get to. So, it’s a great bowl arena, a great bowl site, and it’s been a great home for us — but we really need to get back to campus.
...So now we have the chance to move into this new stadium and really start making some new traditions on our own.
With all these moves going on… is this why Tulane is moving from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference? Can you explain what the move means to the program?
For us it’s a good move for exposure. The thing most people don’t know about Tulane is 70 percent of our alumni are outside the State of Louisiana. So it’s important to us to have TV, be on TV, so people can see us play all around the country where our alumni are.
...You know, people come here, they love New Orleans, but a lot of people come here, they get their degree, and they go off around the world and around the country and do their thing — which is great, but then you don’t have that large fanbase here in town.
So how have alumni and students been responding to this bowl appearance? You’ve sold out of your ticket allotment?
Yeah! You know what? For a team that hasn’t been to a bowl in 11 years, and the fact that we’re playing here in town, demand has been tremendous from our students that are still in town, from our alumni, from the community. And we couldn’t be more excited for them to be able to come see a bowl game here in New Orleans in the Superdome — it’s such an iconic facility — and plus there’s that draw that we’re playing a Louisiana team.
...We have more tickets available: fans can call (up until 10 a.m. [Saturday]) 504-861-WAVE to purchase tickets. There’s still more available.
I think right now there’s about 56,000 tickets sold for the game tomorrow. That’s tremendous. That’s a win-win for the city, for the Bowl, for the teams, for everyone.
Finally… this will be the Ragin’ Cajuns third straight New Orleans Bowl appearance, and they bring a lot of fans with them from Lafayette — do you feel like Tulane still has the home field advantage?
You know, they may outnumber us in the stands with their fans, and they have played the last two bowl games here, but this has been our home for 38 years. We were 5-1 at the Superdome this year, had a great year at home, and there’s that sense of familiarity for us. We practice there all year, we play there, so… We’ve got some guests coming over. There will be a lot of them, but it’s still our home field.