Nestled among the oaks and palms separating St. Charles and Claiborne avenues in New Orleans are the slate-gray halls of Tulane. Now 132 years old, the university's reputation has been made by doctors, lawyers and architects, but seldom by quarterbacks, tackles or ends. Oh, there was a time, about 35 years ago, when "Roll on Green Wave" would never have been confused with a deodorant ad. There were even, if you can possibly remember, Tulane teams that, when they took the field against a team like Stanford, were battling for the national championship. But the recent football years have been so unkind to Tulane that the nicest thing anybody could think of to say was, "Nice try, Carruthers." Poor, beaten-up Carruthers is on the long road back.
Leading Carruthers, or rather Tulane, is new Coach Jim Pittman, who may be the scariest proposition in college football. Pittman has had two heart attacks, and the University of Texas was thinking of finding a nice quiet spot for its valued assistant coach when the offer from Tulane arrived. Much to Texas' amazement, Pittman accepted. He has been a happy, driving, refreshing change in New Orleans ever since.
Under Pittman, Tulane won its first two games this year—the first time the Green Wave has won back-to-back games since 1959. Last week, playing Stanford, a school with similar major league ideas but with academic standards every bit as stringent as its own, Tulane lost in Palo Alto 33-14, but not without a fight that impressed the Indians. This, several of them said, was a far different team from the one they defeated a year ago.
"They never quit," said Tailback Dave Lewis, who rushed for 168 yards, including 90 in his dash for the first touchdown of the game. "We were bigger and a lot stronger, but they kept coming right back for more." Coach Johnny Ralston of Stanford agreed. "Tulane was well coached. They just didn't have enough players, that's all."
October 9, 1966
Lack of depth may always be a problem with Tulane, although Pittman, who is not a man to concede anything, is not so sure. Crew-cut and silver-haired, he is 41 now and has never willingly been associated with a losing team. For the last 16 years he was an assistant under Murray Warmath at Mississippi State and Darrell Royal at Washington and at Texas. Athletic Director Rix Yard brought him to Tulane, which, under Andy Pilney and Tommy O'Boyle, had lost 68 of 90 games since 1957.
"What we needed was a disciplinarian," said Yard. "When I started looking around everybody I talked to mentioned Pittman. When I asked Darrell Royal about Jim, he assured me Pittman was a disciplinarian—strict but fair."
Before he accepted, Pittman wanted to be reassured on one point. "Even though I wanted to be a head coach somewhere," he said, "I told myself it had to be at the right place—it had to be where they wanted a winner." Tulane made it clear it was ready to win.
"Tulane's entrance requirements are higher than most," says Yard, "but it's still possible to recruit enough average-to-good students to get us a pretty good first team. That's all we're after, and we think Jim's enthusiastic approach will get it."
Enthusiastic Pittman has gone after a good second team as well. In his first six months on the job he was constantly on the road, speaking at banquets, shaking hands, making friends and, of course, recruiting football players. When spring practice began last April, Tulane had 100 varsity candidates on the field and this fall its best freshman team in years. "It'll always be tough to go head to head with LSU on a boy," Pittman admits. "They have a fine winning tradition and they can get a lot of boys into school that we cannot. However, Tulane has a lot of doctors and lawyers scattered around this big country of ours, and I hope we can make the most of them. I've got a few contacts in Texas, too."
This last was a mild understatement. Of Pittman's 43 freshman recruits this year, 21 of them are from Texas. As for the varsity, it had shrunk to 60 players by September. "We made it tough," Pittman said, "but not so tough as to run off anyone who really wanted to play football. All we did was keep everybody lined up close together when we were on the field, so if somebody felt like hitting somebody else he didn't have to reach too far."
The results came quickly. Dressed in bright new green jerseys—"Green Bay green," Pittman calls it—Tulane defeated Virginia Tech 13-0 in the home opener and, before New Orleans could recover from that, downed Texas A&M 21-13 before 33,000 spectators at Tulane Stadium. "And we weren't drinking up there either," said one long-suffering rooter. "Before this year you had to get smashed to watch Tulane play." Quarterback Bobby Duhon couldn't believe it. "Here we are, driving against A&M," he said. "We break out of the huddle and line up on their 35, and I have to hold up my hands for quiet to call signals. I never did that before."
Assistant Coach Joe Clark, the only varsity coach Pittman kept from Tulane's 1965 staff, is still amazed at what has happened. "He has them thinking like winners," he said, and that is the real difference between the Tulane of the bad years and the Tulane of today.
Against Stanford's interior linemen Tulane was outweighed by 30 pounds per man, and because Pittman had to spread his defenses even more than usual to contain the Indians' speedy quarterback, Gene Washington, Stanford won the game by attacking Tulane's middle. Fullback Greg Broughton, 212, and Tailback Lewis, 201, powered the Indians to a 20-0 half-time lead. Tulane came back in the second half, taking the kick-off and marching 67 yards in eight plays to make it 20-7. But Washington took advantage of defenses that were then overcommitting toward the middle and skirted Tulane's ends for yardage that finished the Tulane streak at two.
After losing to a Stanford team that may yet throw a scare into the Pacific Coast Rose Bowl race, Pittman stood, hands on hips, outside the Tulane locker room. He smiled and said, "Sure, we made mistakes and got beat. But we've got some fighters now. And, you know, they never once looked like they thought they couldn't win." They really didn't.