Friday, March 04, 2011

Tooling Around The Past

Tooling around Tulane’s recent football history, I was struck by how generationally Tulane hits utter rock-bottom. First, Tulane has the end of the utterly uncompetitive SEC era- from 1957-1965, Tulane never won more than one SEC game in a given season. Second, the Green Wave suffered the horrid collapse of the the English regime in the seventies, followed in the 90s by the incompetent Buddy Teevens (11-45).

Now, while it is not utter rock bottom, we have had eight years of post-review, post-Katrina football- and only once in that time has Tulane posted four I-A wins.

These downturns are probably inevitable given Tulane’s place in the strategic pecking order. Tulane is not top-40 in attendance, tradition, money, etc. - which not only make prolonged runs in the top of college football impossible, but also make runs in the bottom inevitable.

Still, it always picks back up. Which gives me a chance to revisit some of my favorite themes on here as the blog wrap begins.

The very nature of “conference play” brings teams together. The bottom teams do not have to re-invent the wheel, the success metrics frequently are right in front of them. If your football team is 1-7 in the League, there is usually enough to copy, that is not unique, to the 7-1 conference team.

Bill James made a good living writing about this recognition- Law of Competitive Balance: the .500 record exerts a powerful pull. Below .500, you are not a slave to the status quo- you are willing to experiment. Tommy Bowden’s revolutionary new offense in 1997 was not coming from Southern Miss- but rather a football team with real woes.

The experimentation and risk-embracing culture doesn’t always work- see Toledo’s Forte offense. But sometimes it does- and you get your once every fifteen years renaissance.

The other note is that every change in Tulane’s fortune- even modest- was driven by a coach who knew what he was doing. Tulane was hopeless when it left the SEC in 1965- and was promptly ranked multiple years (1970, 1973, 1979)- as some decent to good coaches wandered through: Jim Pittman, Bennie Ellender, Larry Smith. Mack Brown picked Tulane off the deck in the 80s. Tommy Bowden was arguably the best coach in America for two years in 1997-98.

The point is- after the Top 25 player list and Top 25 game list- a lot of good players and good wins filter through here. It ramps up when a serious leader steps forward. Even with four, five year regimes, Tulane has probably three chances a decade to get it right. The strategic problems are insurmountable right now- but I still have faith in a tactical renaissance. If there were an over/under line in Vegas: Tulane Bowl wins the next four years at 0.5, I’d take the over pretty willingly.