East: Curtis Johnson making pitch for Big Easy

Advocate photo by SUSAN POAGFirst-year coach Curtis Johnson leads the Green Wave onto the field for a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Johnson and the Green Wave begin their second spring practice Wednesday. Show caption
Advocate photo by SUSAN POAGFirst-year coach Curtis Johnson leads the Green Wave onto the field for a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Johnson and the Green Wave begin their second spring practice Wednesday.

NEW ORLEANS — Curtis Johnson isn’t missing any opportunity as he tries to build Tulane’s football program.

He was working radio row at the Morial Convention Center on Friday, using Super Bowl XLVII to plant seeds in the minds of potential Green Wave players.

“I’m just trying to get the word out that New Orleans is a great place,” said Johnson, a New Orleans native, “and Tulane is definitely a viable option to come to as a school.”

Johnson’s, whose first team struggled to a 2-10 finish last season, is trying to make the football program as viable a destination for athletes as the university is for students.

Four of the players in Sunday’s game played at Miami when Johnson was an assistant there — Ravens safety Ed Reed and tackle Bryant McKinnie and 49ers running back Frank Gore and linebacker Tavares Gordon.

Johnson, who was wide receivers coach for the Saints when they won the Super Bowl three years ago, knows how to get the attention of recruits and their families.

“Here’s what I do,” he said. “I begin to talk about the players that I’ve coached and then I put these two rings up.”

Johnson flashed the Hurricanes national championship ring from 2001 on his left hand and the Saints Super Bowl ring on his right.

“I say this is a Super Bowl ring and this is a national championship ring,” Johnson said. “How many people do you know that have these? Then Tulane is a great institution and New Orleans is one of the best cities in the world. It’s good enough for the Super Bowl, I’m sure it’s good enough for your kid to come.”

Johnson is wrapping up the first recruiting class he has been able to work on full-time.

“Last year was difficult,” Johnson said. “I was working two jobs. When our biggest recruiting visits were happening for the most part I was in San Francisco getting my butt kicked by these 49ers (in a playoff game).”

This year’s class will begin signing Wednesday and Johnson said the Green Wave are overbooked.

“We’re weeding this thing out,” he said, “and getting our numbers where they need to be.”

Reed, who’s from Destrehan, and McKinnie ran into Johnson on Wednesday when the Ravens practiced at Tulane. After one workout, Baltimore moved to the Saints facility because the players wanted to get off the artificial turf on the baseball field.

The Green Wave’s football field is unavailable because construction has begun on the new 30,000-seat on-campus stadium scheduled to open in 2014, when Tulane is also scheduled to join the Big East Conference.

Johnson said pictures of himself with his Super Bowl buddies can be found on the Internet, where recruits have noticed the Green Wave coach has important friends.

“When you know this many players and you have pictures with all of them and they’re all over the Internet,” Johnson said, “and then being here in New Orleans having the Super Bowl and we’re building a new stadium and we’re getting into this new conference — it’s an exiting time for Tulane.”