Here to Win
Tulane AD remakes Green Wave athletics in less than 10 months
Troy Dannen has been Tulane’s director of athletics for just 10 months, but in that short window he’s set about changing the attitude and expectations of the Green Wave’s athletic program.
“The biggest thing that I’ve found broken is the culture. Winning hasn’t been talked about,” Dannen, 49, said. “We’re here to win and be successful competitively. We want to be a standard setter that people look at and say, ‘Yes, they’re doing it the right way, and that’s how we should do it.’”
The Marshalltown, Iowa, native was named AD in December, and has since hired head coaches for the “Big 3” sports — football, men’s basketball and baseball. Just 11 days after his own hiring, Dannen named Willie Fritz head football coach. At the end of March, he hired Mike Dunleavy to lead the basketball program. Then in mid-July, he called upon Travis Jewett to coach baseball.
“It’s an extraordinary opportunity to essentially build your team in the first seven months,” he said. “I’m very pragmatic about where our program was at. I know from a competition standpoint that we weren’t there. Everything is measured by football and, on a secondary level, men’s basketball. We’ve gutted those programs and we’re starting over. I wanted to bring in people who came from success and expect success. I’ve been able to hire people who will instill a culture that I believe in. Now, we have people who know how to win, who expect to win, and who are going to force everyone to elevate themselves to get to that level of expectation.”
Fritz is being heralded as one of the best offseason signings in college football. He has compiled a 154–69 overall record, having won nearly 70 percent of the games in which he’s been a head coach.
“He’s won by adapting to the players,” Dannen said. “He’s had winning records right away every place he’s walked into regardless of where they were when he got there.”
Mike Dunleavy is the most high-profile name on Dannen’s roster. Dunleavy played in the NBA for 15 years, from 1976-1990, including stints with the Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, and Milwaukee Bucks. He served as an assistant coach while playing with the Bucks. As soon as his playing career ended, he began a 14-year career as a head coach for the Los Angeles Lakers, Bucks, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers, where he also served as general manager. This marks the former NBA Coach of the Year’s first job as a college coach.
“Men’s basketball has been on it’s back, dead for nearly 30 years,” Dannen said. “When a guy of Mike’s pedigree presented himself, he gives us instant credibility overnight.”
Baseball, traditionally Tulane’s most successful sport, was a tougher hire.
“We have one of the best baseball jobs in the country,” Dannen said. “At a high-tuition private school, we only have 11.7 scholarships for baseball. We needed somebody who knew how to make those scholarships work and get us the best 35 players available.”
The AD found his man in Jewett, formerly associate head coach in charge of hitting and recruiting at Vanderbilt, a peer institution that won the College World Series in 2014.
Today, the pace and tempo around the Wilson Center, Tulane’s sports headquarters, is quicker than it was a year ago.
“The state of Tulane Athletics today is that we’re turning the corner on culture. It’s been a whirlwind, but I have great comfort with where everything is at,” Dannen said. “Now it’s time to see how it manifests itself on the field.”
Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football.