January 1, 1998
There's nothing quite like the thrill of victory. Just ask Coach Tommy Bowden and his staff, because they are still riding the wave of excitement from Tulane's record-breaking 7-4 football season. Ask his secretarial staff.
In mid-December, three days before the annual Green Wave football banquet, phones were ringing incessantly in the football office. In between requests for videotape of the coach, secretaries were relocating the annual football banquet to a larger hotel that could accommodate more than 400 guests, double the usual anticipated number.
Ask his assistant coaches, who were on the road recruiting for next season prior to the Feb. 4 national signing date. The reception they are getting among high school players is "so good it's scary," says Bowden, whose coaches can finally wear the Tulane name with pride after 17 years of losing seasons. And ask Bowden himself, who had just signed his new contract to continue as Tulane's head coach.
"This is a great profession if you're a winner," he said, recalling the many 16- and 18-hour workdays during the season. "To be rewarded by wins is the ultimate. Until August, until we play again, there's peace in the family."
Peaceful is hardly the word for several weeks in Bowden's life in December, however, as the victorious Tulane coach was approached by the University of Arkansas for its head coaching job, and was on the short list at several other major schools. By signing a new five-year contract, however, Bowden, kept his feet on Tulane turf, bringing sighs of relief to the Tulane faithful, not to mention athletic director Sandy Barbour.
"Sandy and this administration showed they'd like their program to go higher," he said, by committing to provide more practice field space to Bowden's program. Exactly how this would be done on the space-poor uptown campus was not immediately clear, but Bowden felt this was a "serious problem" that limited the future of Tulane teams.
The terms of Bowden's contract were not available, but the university kept its winning coach for the near future at least, and that suggests the kind of program stability that is crucial for Bowden. He noted that in prior years Tulane's winning coaches left quickly for other programs.
By keeping him, Bowden said, Tulane "makes a huge statement to the city and to local athletes. The university has made it worth staying." Looking forward, Bowden hopes to sign 16 new players and is especially on the alert for good defensive linemen and a hard-running tailback. In fact, Bowden was unperturbed about his 7-4 team being excluded from a postseason bowl invitation, saying he felt it was better to put his energy into recruiting. In the heady days after the winning season, Bowden's staff had found high school prospects excited about Tulane.
"But remember," he cautions, "they're 17 years old. In January, here comes my brother (Auburn coach Terry) and my father (Florida State coach Bobby), and Michigan and Ohio State--when the dust settles, there will be some fallout."
Bowden plans to hit the road in January to help "rekindle the fire" among the recruits, because as head coach, he has one and only one home visit to each prospect. Then in mid-February, Bowden will start his 6 a.m. workouts with his new team, a practice that he believes will indicate "who's on board" the Bowden program.
Next year's team will have momentum on its side, as well as something Bowden says will be entirely new for a Tulane football team in recent memory: "They'll be doing something they have never done, and that's play with confidence."
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