September 1, 1997
Tommy Bowden's corner office in the Wilson Center has a view that epitomizes the challenge faced by Tulane's head football coach in his first season. Out the window he can see a goal post, bright yellow, sitting in the practice field end zone. It's a symbol of victory, of hitting pay dirt, of resurrecting a Tulane football program that Bowden acknowledges has reached "rock bottom."
Bowden says, "The only way to go is up. Everyone here is hungry for some success. It's important that people see this program moving in the right direction." As Bowden talked, in mid-August, just before his freshman recruits arrived on campus, the coach seemed confident, determined and more than ready to take on the season, which opens in the Superdome Sept. 6 against Cincinnati.
There's nothing quite like the start of a new football season to stir optimism even in the hearts of fans who've had little to cheer about for two decades. Add to that football's prestigious Bowden family name and the flickers of hope begin to crackle into flames. After spending weeks this spring on the road, with some 20 speaking dates in the month of May alone, Bowden found "a lot of optimism and enthusiasm" among Tulane fans.
And, given some time, he believes he and the program will measure up to the expectations. He hopes the Tulane community will have "patient optimism" as he and his staff work to turn around the Green Wave's losing tradition that has enjoyed only four winning seasons in 20 years. After being chosen as head coach in December, Bowden got his first in-depth look at his returning team during spring practice. He was pleased that his players have "positive work habits," demonstrated by the fact that most returning players stayed around New Orleans this summer to continue strength and conditioning programs.
One major goal he has is for the team to "play hard for 60 minutes," to remedy last season's problems of losing games in the fourth quarter. "I know what happens in the huddle," the coach says. "Lose a few close games, and the players all look for someone else to do it, someone else to make the difference. We won't have true success until we're behind in the fourth quarter and win."
How do you make that difference in a team, particularly a young team? "You do it through motivation. You've got to have a plan, and eventually it will happen," Bowden says. He knows the name of the game is winning, but delivering wins this year will be challenging, especially since he expects at least 13 of his 21 freshmen to play. "Some freshmen will have to start. We will have to be productive with kids," he says. "They are inexperienced, but they also have youth and enthusiasm. We have to find the positives."
Along the way, Bowden knows he has to deliver the kind of performance that will draw support from Tulane loyalists as well as from the larger New Orleans area community. "I've got to put an exciting, marketable product on the field. Until we can win, we've got to give them a reason to come back," he says. Putting more fans into the Superdome is the key to another Bowden long-term goal: to make the football program, and with it the athletic department, self-supporting.
"Our money hasn't been doing it," he says bluntly. "We've got to put ourselves in a position to stop taking money from academia. It's my eventual goal to be self-supporting."
Not a small set of goals, to reengineer the winning traditions of Tulane football. Yet, Bowden is convinced he has the tools--though possibly not yet the players--to make it happen. His key to success resides in the football roots that pervade his family, starting with dad Bobby Bowden, head coach of Florida State. "I know what he does works," Tulane's head coach says confidently. "Chart the course, don't deviate, and it will happen."
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