Coach Curtis Johnson utilizes experience to motivate players



Jonny Harvey

On a typical weekday, he wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to read the Bible and say prayers to start the day. After his morning ritual, he rides his bike and goes for a run as the sun rises and, if time permits, lifts weights before he finally gets on the road at 6:30 a.m. to drive to Tulane’s practice facility. As a coach who never sleeps, it’s apparent that Tulane football’s head coach Curtis Johnson works non-stop for his players.

“My belief is to give back and help young people grow up,” Johnson said. “It’s not just in coaching, it’s in anything. Being able to see young people grow and get better is [my] main motivation.”

Johnson gets as few as four hours of sleep a night.

“I’m up at 4 a.m. studying tape, calling people at weird hours of the night just to get information,” Johnson said.

Johnson then holds team meetings. Regardless of the outcome of the Wave’s previous game, Johnson says these meetings are productive and invigorating for his team.

“Every coach loves to come to work in the morning,” Assistant coach Mike Neu

said. “That’s what you want and [Johnson] creates that kind of atmosphere in the meeting room.”

The team goes on to practice and watch more film. Johnson works with the other coaches to plan upcoming practices, discuss recruiting and address the media in various forms after the players leave. He attends a mandatory press conference every Tuesday, and he also speaks on a radio show Wednesdays from 7 to 8 p.m. on WMTI

FM 106.1 “The Ticket.”

Johnson is vocal during practices, but stays relaxed on game day. He allows his players to sleep in and brings a community speaker to inspire the players before each game.

Former Tulane safety Devon Walker, who fractured his spinal cord against Tulsa Sept. 8 in Tulsa, Okla

. spoke to the team before its 34-7 home victory against Jackson State

“I hope I can say I’m a good coach,” Johnson said. “I like to let the assistants do their jobs, I like to be around the players, I give [the coaches] a lot of leeway. I [would not say] I know everything.” 

Johnson often gets home from a long day of coaching as late as midnight. To wind down, he watches his favorite TV show, Criminal Minds.

 “I don’t [have a] to watch much TV, but that’s my show now,” Johnson said.

The Green Wave has shown huge improvements in Johnson’s second year. As the team continues its season, Johnson says he will continue his approach to every practice and game as he team tries to create a winning program.

“We’ve gotten better, and we’re getting some of the right guys in the program [who] are learning how to be model citizens and good young men,” Johnson said. “They play hard and do what they can to win.”

Johnson draws his inspiration from coaches he previously played or coached under. He credits his offensive coordinator at Idaho, Keith Gilbertson

, who coached him as a wide receiver in 1985, and Dennis Erickson, who served as Idaho’s head coach from 1982-85, for teaching Johnson the X’s and O’s.

Johnson was a wide receivers coach for New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton during the Saints Super Bowl run in 2010 before taking the head coaching job at Tulane and the two have stayed in touch. Although he and Payton speak frequently, Johnson jokes that those talks aren’t about just football.

“He talks more about my weight than anything,” Johnson said. “We communicate a lot on what [the Saints] are doing, though.”

Payton and Johnson have similar coaching styles. They both relate to their players well and maintain contact with former players. Reggie Wayne, former Miami and current Indianapolis Colts receiver, called him this week, and Ed Reed, former Miami and current Houston Texans safety shot him a text as well.


says the team rallies around Johnson’s supportive attitude and adopts his energy during practices and games. 

“He is who he is all the time,” Neu

said. “Whether it’s practice or a game, he’s going to be excited. He loves football. He loves to win, so when he goes out on game day he certainly is the most exciting guy here.”

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