By Scott Kushner
Special to The Advocate
October 14, 2012
NEW ORLEANS — Don’t tell Curtis Johsnon he’s never seen anything like this before.
While Tulane’s first-year coach didn’t previously suffer a 14-game losing streak like the Green Wave (0-4) is currently experiencing, Johnson said he fully understands the perils of youth, and that rolling out a depth chart with 13 freshmen is a recipe for growing pains.
The scoreboard provides ample evidence of it.
Tulane has been outscored 147-20 in its past three losses — overwhelmed by Tulsa, Ole Miss and Louisiana-Monroe — and just four games into Johnson’s tenure, fans have already grown weary of lopsided results and a lack of observable progress.
Tulane will try to snap the FBS’ longest losing streak when it travels to Cajun Field to face Louisiana-Lafayette at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“(Fans) should be a little bit restless,” Johnson said. “I’m restless. I haven’t slept. But the bottom line is, we didn’t play well. We need them to continue to support us. The fan base is going to be what it is.
“When you win, you get everybody in, and you’ve got a big bandwagon. When you lose, your bandwagon is probably going to (only) have friends and family. It’s like a Southwest Airlines gang.”
Johnson hasn’t lost hope, though. Instead, he’s drawn a parallel between the Green Wave’s current struggles and the ones he faced as Miami’s wide receivers coach in 1997.
Under third-year coach Butch Davis, the once-powerful Hurricanes were hampered by scholarship shortages because of NCAA sanctions, prompting Miami to play a bevy of unprepared freshmen. It resulted in a 5-6 finish, the program’s first losing season in 18 years, and made Davis a target for the fans’ ire.
But Johnson credits the tumultuous 1997 season for Miami’s future success, which included a national championship and three Big East titles during the following six years.
“We played a bunch of freshmen,” Johnson said. “Edgerrin James was a freshman. James Jackson was a freshman. Probably our best players were freshmen. We went 5-6 at ‘The U,’ and they wanted to run us out of there. It was an experience. ...
“This reminds me so much of that year that I can draw from … a lot of true freshmen played then, and then four years later we ended up beating Florida in the Sugar Bowl, and the next year, we won a national championship.”
Several of Tulane’s younger contributors are putting their faith in the same process. Freshman defensive back Darion Monroe spurned his commitment to Texas A&M to attend Tulane, and said he was aware of the adversity awaiting him, not discouraged by what’s transpired during the season’s opening month.
“We still believe in our coaching staff and still believe in our scheme,” Monroe said. “Coach C.J. told us about how they came through it when he was at Miami, and then they became one of the best programs in the country again. I’m glad I’m here at the beginning, and we can keep getting better, each game we play and each season we play.”
Getting in at ground level is paying dividends in the form of experience, Monroe said. The former East St. John standout has already started four games at two positions (cornerback and free safety) and ranks second on the team with 26 tackles.
He’s playing alongside fellow local newcomers Jordan Batiste (Lutcher) and Lorenzo Doss (St. Augustine), and said each is picking up critical skills for succeeding in the college game.
“Those things take time to learn, but every snap and every game, they come a little easier, and soon you’re getting better because you’re more comfortable,” Monroe said. “I think we are on our way to that point, it’s just a matter of us getting there, because we’re certainly trying.”