Will the Chaos at Kansas Impact Tulane?
A Quick Primer on the Big 12 Institution's Search for What's Next
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Kansas, a state of a little under 3 million people, has been on the minds of many Green Wave fans for the last week. At first, the radar detector started to go off with the open Athletic Director job at Kansas making some news.
As a refresher, Kansas AD Jeff Long was fired almost immediately after Les Miles was relieved of his duties in the wake of the LSU sexual misconduct investigation:
Long’s dismissal came one day after he vowed to lead the search for Miles’s successor, a move that drew significant backlash from Kansas alumni. It was Long who had hired Miles, his friend of more than 30 years, despite questions that ultimately led to his firing Monday night.
Long’s desire to hire another coach — with no accountability for his last hire of Miles — was apparently too much for Kansas to accept. The Jayhawks moved on and prepared to clean house (with the exception of throwing a lifetime contract to embattled Men’s Hoops coach Bill Self). You know, normal things that happen in College Athletics when you do not have an AD.
Tulane Rumblings Begin
Last week, The Athletic reported that the Kansas search for an Athletic Director had turned to not one but two Green Wave affiliates. From their March 30th story:
Industry sources anticipate the AD search to be wrapped up by the end of this week, with Tulane AD Troy Dannen and Northwestern deputy AD Travis Goff now considered the favorites to land the job. As with all things Kansas-related, that could change, but it is easy for anyone to connect the dots and envision a UCF-to-Tennessee style package deal that has Green Wave football coach Willie Fritz — who spent the first 23 years of his life in the state of Kansas — following Dannen in hopes of resuscitating the Jayhawks’ football program.
The Dannen storyline was the most concerning for Wave fans who feared that this would all but ensure the departure of Willie Fritz in a package deal not unlike the UCF-to-Tennessee transfer of power.
Today, it seems that the search has reached its finish line, and Northwestern’s Travis Goff will be the next AD at Kansas. Goff’s name may be familiar to Tulane fans, as the Big 10 administrator was formerly in Uptown where he helped fundraise for Yulman Stadium:
So, based on today’s reports, it seems like Troy Dannen is secure as the AD at Tulane.
Does Kansas Make a Run at Willie Fritz?
With that said, the expected AD hire at Kansas certainly does not guarantee that Kansas will not have an interest in Willie Fritz.
Let’s start with the basics. Kansas Football is truly one of the great tire fires of the sport right now. They last exceeded three wins back in 2009, when the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow” ruled the radio waves because Spotify did not exist yet.
Mark Mangino - who in 2007 won the Orange Bowl and achieved a Top 10 ranking at Kansas - would be ousted as the program would trust thought leaders like Turner Gill, Charlie Weis, David Beaty, and Les Miles with the keys to the program.
The on-the-field results have been disastrous, and it’s not surprising that Fritz is coming up as a name in the discussion. Green Wave Football was viewed, at the time of his hire, as a similarly impossible rebuild job in a tough league.
Years later, Fritz has seen the Wave ascend to a consistent bowl team, if not yet a league contender. Kansas Football has been an embarrassment in the Big 12, and Fritz offers the promise of respectability - both on and off the field. And definitely notable — Fritz is from Shawnee Mission, Kansas, and he has coached in the state at both the high school and college level throughout his career.
That brings us to today when Football Scoop dropped Fritz as a handful of names to watch for with this job:
Sources across college athletics have told FootballScoop that Northwestern administrator Travis Goff has emerged as the top candidate for athletics director while Tulane Green Wave football coach Willie Fritz and Army’s Jeff Monken remain at the forefront of Kansas’ ongoing football coaching search, and don’t discount the possibility of Lance Leipold (see more below).
To go out on my own limb here for a moment, I think it says a lot about how Kansas operates that - in the absence of an AD - they have now given a basketball coach a lifetime extension and seem to have a shortlist already in place for their next football coach, but that’s neither here nor there.
Tulane’s Recent Extension for Fritz May be a Moat
One thing in Tulane’s favor, should Kansas choose to target Fritz, is that CWF is coming off a big extension in the 2020 season that was set to keep him in Uptown through 2027.
Because Tulane is a private school, we do not have contract details. The USA Today coach database reported that Fritz’s last deal paid around $1.8M per year to the program leader. By comparison, Miles was paid $3.4M per year at Kansas to produce six wins in three years for the conference doormat.
Kansas can likely make a stronger deal in terms of annual salary. With that said, the key note for me is the buyout amount — if Fritz has a deal for six more seasons in place under his current Tulane extension, Kansas may need to have a lot of conviction to pay the buyout and try to bring Fritz on board at the 11th hour.
One other aspect to me, in Tulane’s favor, is the marketability of the Fritz hire given those potential costs. Given that Tulane has improved but has not reached the recent heights of UCF or Memphis, that may be a tough thing to justify to Kansas fans and boosters. In other words, does Goff — if he went after Fritz — successfully sell this hire by stressing the improvement at Tulane?
Altogether, we’re in the offseason and post-signing day. The College Football news cycle is limited, and the Kansas job is a rare late arrival in the coach carousel.
Like many open P5 jobs, Fritz will be a name mentioned as long as he continues to win games with the Green Wave. At this stage, I’m taking it in stride — I think there are still some big questions for Kansas to answer before we need to get worried. My expectation is that Fritz will be on the sidelines when Oklahoma comes to Yulman Stadium to open the 2021 season.