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    OPINION | Could NOLA be more than four years of fun?

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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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Tidal shift: Green Wave faces test in post-Fritz era

Quarterback Michael Pratt jogs off the field to meet head coach Willie Fritz in the AAC Championship on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. Fritz accepted the head coach job in Houston after the game, and it may have been Pratt’s last appearance at Yulman Stadium. (Courtesy of Parker Waters — Tulane Athletics)

Tulane University suffered its most devastating loss this season against Southern Methodist University in the American Athletic Conference championship on Saturday. On Sunday, head coach Willie Fritz accepted a job at the University of Houston. On Monday, several key players entered the transfer portal. Quarterback Michael Pratt may well have played his last game at Yulman Stadium.

In a game with a deceivingly close final score of 26-14, Tulane’s offense lagged. The run game faltered. The defense forced three turnovers in the first half, then fell to backup quarterback Kevin Jenning’s dual-threat capabilities. 

And the group that was favored to win another New Year’s Six bowl game will now play on a smaller stage against a Virginia Tech team that is 6-6 on the year. 

What now? 

The question is reverberating around campus after the loss, and some students say they expect tough challenges in the future — even as school leaders vow to push the Green Wave’s success into a new era of Tulane football.

“I’m definitely feeling sad,” sophomore Jack Dare said this week. “I mean, we lost our head coach, so it seems like we’re gonna lose a lot of players … A year coming off of a New Year’s Six bowl and now going to the Military Bowl. It sounds like a point of privilege as a school to say, but no one’s really excited.”

Such sentiments deviate sharply from the praise fans shared throughout the season. 

The start of Saturday’s game felt like the culmination of a program revival two years in the making. Lines for student tickets stretched all the way to Willow Street. Despite weather forecasts prompting a lightning delay, fans remained undeterred. And, with almost an hour to go before kickoff, the student section looked like a can of sardines. 

That same student section erupted when Tulane defensive end Devean Deal forced an SMU fumble on the first play from scrimmage. Starting inside the 1-yard line, Pratt promptly scored to put his team up early, and all signs pointed towards a high-scoring win for the Green Wave.

Tulane fans certainly felt this way. The familiar cheer rang out and the atmosphere was electric. But vibes gradually soured as Green Wave scoring opportunities dried up. SMU’s offense picked apart the Tulane defense, repeatedly driving downfield with chunk yardage plays. The home crowd became increasingly dejected with each Jennings scramble and completion. As the second half trudged along, the game continued to slip out of Tulane’s reach, thanks to costly penalties and a lack of offensive firepower. By the final whistle, Green Wave fans could barely muster a whimper.

A day later, the fans’ forlorn emotions stemmed from more than just a championship game loss. Fritz announced his departure from the program to helm the University of Houston Cougars. The winningest Green Wave coach of the modern era, who once said he intended to retire at his current post, left fans to wonder what ultimately persuaded him west. 

Assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Slade Nagle was appointed as interim head football coach, but the university is still searching for Fritz’s replacement, promising results by the end of this week

The NCAA transfer portal was buzzing on Dec. 4, its first day open. Three Tulane players entered the portal immediately: backup quarterback Carson Haggard, wide receiver Chris Brazzell II and cornerback D.J. Douglas. Haggard has seen limited playing time due to his redshirt status, but both Brazzell II and Douglas have been essential parts of this Tulane team. Through Saturday, Brazzell II led the team in receptions and receiving yards, while Douglas ranked fourth on the team in tackles. Should these players leave for different programs, the Green Wave will face a brutal blow to their status as perennial contenders. 

The game on Saturday also could have been Pratt’s last at Yulman. In Saturday’s postgame conference, the AAC’s offensive player of the year was asked how he wanted to be remembered “if this was [his] last game here.” 

The wording of this question was important. It insinuates that he could leave the Green Wave following this season, and Pratt didn’t object to this assumption. He remained humble as always, saying that he would like to be remembered as someone who uplifted those around him. 

“The most important thing is the kind of person I am, how I impacted people in a positive way,” Pratt said. Whether he transfers out, enters the draft or sticks around for one more year, Pratt has etched his name into Tulane history.

The Green Wave’s personnel losses are palpable, but it would be foolish to solely attribute the team’s success to the few figureheads leaving. A change of faces doesn’t instantly doom a football team, especially one with roleplayers in all three phases of the game. In fact, the loss of running back Tyjae Spears and linebacker Dorian Williams to the NFL draft last season did not stop Tulane from winning 11 games this year. True freshman running back Makhi Hughes led the team in rushing yards and graduate transfer linebacker Tyler Grubbs was second on the team in total tackles. Should they stay home, Tulane will remain competitive. After all, this team is no stranger to adversity.

However, a wary attitude towards the program is understandable. Tulane isn’t losing small chunks of their team they’re losing core parts. In October, former athletic director Troy Dannen left his position to oversee the University of Washington’s athletic programs. In response, Tulane coaxed David Harris away from University of Northern Iowa to take over in 2024. Even though he hasn’t officially started at his position, Harris has a lot on his hands right now. With Green Wave football at a crossroad, it is up to him to parlay their recent successes into sustained development. He already has a leg-up when it comes to fundraising and facilities, so there’s still hope for the program. 

Tulane can either push for continued relevance on a national stage or sink in the doldrums of college football it is so accustomed to.

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