DALLAS — Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin pointed toward his new head coach during Conference USA Media Day activities.
“Having C.J. here, he told us we’re not looking toward the past but to the future,” Griffin said on Wednesday morning.
It’s not often a player mentions a head coach by name — let alone a nickname — but first-year coach Curtis Johnson wants his players to be comfortable.
But don’t get the former New Orleans Saints assistant wrong. This Tulane team will work hard this season.
“I’m enthusiastic about my job and have a passion for football,” Johnson said. “I enjoy being around young men and helping them realize their dreams. It’s who I am.
“I hope (the style) is infectious. I want them to play with energy, enthusiasm and excitement.”
Johnson inherited a team that has only captured 21 victories in the past seven seasons. The three-win-a-season average isn’t what Johnson expects for the future.
Johnson said it’s not only his challenge to change the culture, but the mindset as well.
“This team can be a winner,” said Johnson, who has been on championship staffs in college football (Miami) and the NFL (Saints).
“You have to set a plan on what we need to do. You have to lay it out for them.
“They’re smart athletes and good players. Then you have to stay with it. I don’t know if you can say ‘we want to win this many games.’ Winning a game is a result of the effort you put in it. I think the wins will then come.”
Johnson said he is impressed with team leaders like Griffin, running back Orleans Darkwa and linebacker Trent Mackey, who is C-USA’s preseason defensive player of the year.
“In fact, the whole team has impressed me,” Johnson said. “Everyone is doing what we’ve asked them to do, and it’s been a blueprint for success.”
More wins could help build a foundation for years to come, which could equal more talent on the roster.
The recruiting focus will stay in-state, Johnson said. The team has 45 players from Louisiana, including 16 from New Orleans.
“In order to build a program, you have to recruit in-state,” Johnson said. “Especially in a state where there’s enough players to be successful. We’re going to recruit Louisiana as much as we can. I don’t know if we’ll get all 25 (scholarships) every year, but we will try to.
“We’re going to find the smartest, toughest, hardest- working players that you can.”
Johnson’s future recruiting pitches might include talk about an on-campus stadium, which has been a hot topic in New Orleans.
“The Superdome is a pro venue,” Johnson said, referring to Tulane’s current home field. “Having your own stadium … there’s just something about being at home. I think it will galvanize our student body and give us a great home field advantage.”
Tulane won’t ease into the season. The Wave will have home nonconference games against Rutgers (Big East) and Ole Miss (Southeastern Conference) sandwiching a C-USA-opening trip to perennial bowl team Tulsa.
“It’s a great schedule,” Johnson said. “We like the seven games at home … We like the home flavor and competition against the SEC opposition as well as playing Tulsa on the road.”
Johnson was a bundle of energy during a 15-minute interview, and eagerly awaited the Aug. 6 start of practice.
“Absolutely. I’m ready to go right now,” Johnson said.