Tulane football has both a storied and not-so-storied past. The Green Wave first played in 1893 beating in-state rival LSU in the inaugural Battle of the Rag Game. Tulane was coached in this game by the late T.L. Bayne, who coached the team to a 1-2 season finish in 1893.
The Green Wave would go on to reach the zenith of their football history to-date in the 1930’s, winning two SEC championships under coach Ted Cox in 1934 and Red Dawson in 1939. After winning their third SEC championship in 1949 under coach Henry Frnka, Tulane would not win another conference championship until winning the Conference USA championship under Tommy Bowden in 1998.
The post Hurricane Katrina years of 2006-2015 were tough for Tulane, posting a record of 34-88 during that timespan under three different non-interim head coaches, Chris Scelfo, Bob Toledo, and Curtis Johnson.
Happy times are here again though, as the Green Wave look to seriously contend for their first conference championship in over two decades in Willie Fritz’s sixth season coaching in Uptown in 2021.
Here we will look at the three all-time greatest and worst Tulane Head Football coaches:
Top Three Tulane Football Coaches of All-Time
1) Clark Shaughnessy, Tulane Head Coaching Record 59-28-7
Any real Greenie knows that a Tulane Football coaching list always begins with the G.O.A.T., Clark Shaughnessy. Coach Shaughnessy was only hired as the Tulane head coach because Notre Dame assistant Knute Rockne was not able to travel to New Orleans to interview for the job.
Shaughnessy is famous for bringing the Minnesota shift to the Big Easy, the forerunner of any pre-snap formation you see today in football. With the help of assistant coach and future Tulane head coach Bernie Bierman, Shaughnessy led the Green Wave to a 9-0-1 record in 1925, but declined the opportunity to face-off against Washington in the Rose Bowl that year.
The debate on pay-to-play was apparently a hot topic in the 1920s and the Milwaukee Journal noted that Shaughnessy, “...never paid his players a nickel.” Shaughnessy had the tough task of being a teetotaler in New Orleans, but did meet his wife in the city while coaching the Green Wave.
Shaughnessy left Tulane in 1926 to become the head coach at rival Loyola University of New Orleans, could you imagine that happening today Greenies! Later in his life Coach Shaughnessy would go on to coach an undefeated Stanford team to a Rose Bowl win and became the head coach of the LA Rams and the University of Hawaii.
2) Tommy Bowden, Tulane Head Coaching Record 18-4
Coach Tommy Bowden was only in Uptown New Orleans for two seasons, but made the most of his time. The son of legendary Florida State Head Coach Bobby Bowden, Tommy led the Green Wave to their most successful season since the 1930s, leading Tulane to a 12-0 record (Bowden only went 11-0 because he left before the bowl game for Clemson) and to a final AP Ranking of seventh in the nation.
Bowden brought along with him Rich Rodriguez, who was the coach at Division II Glenville State before becoming the offensive coordinator at Tulane. Along with Rodriguez, Bowden’s offense led by quarterback Shaun King averaged 45 points per game in 1998. While Bowden had been exposed to the no-huddle offense ten years prior to his time at Tulane, he had never tried fully implementing it before his 1997 season in New Orleans.
After starting the season 3-0 in 1998, the Green Wave played arch-rival Southern Miss. Tulane had lost 10 out of their last 11 games to the Golden Eagles, who were a C-USA powerhouse at the time. Tulane went on to claim the Battle of the Bell beating Southern Miss 21-7 in that game. That was a turning point in Bowden’s tenure and in the Green Wave’s historic 1998 campaign.
1998 was the first year of the BCS Bowl System, which like the College Football Playoff benefited schools in larger conferences. Due to this, the Green Wave never got their fair chance to compete for a national championship that year, even though the talent on that team could have easily held their own against any SEC school. Bowden left Tulane for Clemson after 1998. When asked by then Tulane President Scott Cowen why he was leaving, Bowden famously replied he wants, “Winnebago's on a Wednesday.” This was a reference to the lack of a tailgating and a football culture that Tulane had at the time that he was looking for and ended up getting at a school like Clemson.
The success of Bowden and the 1998 Tulane team was one of the many reasons that Yulman Stadium was constructed on Tulane’s campus in 2014. Tulane realized if they wanted to consistently compete on the gridiron and retain quality personnel, the school would have to invest in the appropriate facilities.
3) Bernie Bierman, Tulane Head Coaching Record 36-10-2
Coach Bernie Bierman, a son of Litchfield, Minnesota, coached Tulane from 1927-1931. Bierman reached the height of his Green Wave coaching career in 1931 leading Tulane to an 11-1 record, a Southern Conference championship, and a trip to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena where the Greenies lost to USC 21-12 in front of 75,562 people. Bierman’s 1929 Tulane team was also invited to the Rose Bowl, but turned the opportunity down primarily due to academic commitments.
Bierman began his coaching career in Billings, Montana, where he coached the University of Montana from 1919-1921. After his time in Billings the ambitious Bierman sold bonds in Minneapolis, but was drawn back to football by the legendary head coach and number one coach on this list Clark Shaughnessy, to become an assistant at Tulane in 1923.
Bierman’s teams were led by Tulane legends such as Don Zimmerman, Jerry Dalrymple, and Willis Banker. Zimmerman, whose nickname was The Flying Dutchman, was a half-back on the Green Wave football team and a track-and-field athlete for the university. Though Zimmerman was a half-back, all running, passing, and even kicking plays ran through him. Think if Tim Tebow and Adam Vinatieri were one player.
Bierman left Tulane to become the coach at his alma mater, the University of Minnesota. While at Minnesota, Bierman went on to win five national championships and six Big Ten championships. Ed Widseth, a star on Bierman’s Minnesota teams commented that the coach, “...just coached fundamental football and it turned out to be winning football.” Bierman was known to his players as a no-nonsense and no-frills type of guy. Later in life Bierman commented on his coaching philosophy, “If I found four or five plays that were doing the job, we stuck with them.”
Honorable Mention: Red Dawson and Willie Fritz
Bottom Three Tulane Football Coaches of All-Time
1) Tommy O’Boyle, Tulane Head Coaching Record 6-33-1
Can’t win with him, can most likely win without him, is probably what Tulane football players used to say during Tommy O’Boyle’s tenure as the Green Wave’s head coach. O’Boyle coached the Greenies from 1962-1965. O’Boyle, who was raised in Gary, Indiana, played guard for Tulane from 1938-1940 under Red Dawson and was drafted in the sixth round of the NFL Draft in 1941 by the Chicago Bears.
O’Boyle resigned as the football coach of the Green Wave after getting trounced by in-state rival LSU 62-0. After that game O’Boyle said, “A man should never let himself get in a position to get beat 62-0.” He was right.
In his four years coaching Tulane, O’Boyle only won two SEC (Tulane was in the SEC at that time) games, against Vanderbilt winning 7 to 2 and against Mississippi State winning 17 to 15, and racked up one conference tie, against Vanderbilt where the final score was 10-10. In 1962, O’Boyle’s Tulane team went 0-10. The team’s closest result that season was a 22-24 loss against Virginia Tech, known then as Virginia Polytechnic Institute. The 1965 Tulane team only scored nine offensive touchdowns in ten games.
O’Boyle did recruit Bobby Duhon to Uptown New Orleans. Duhon was a two sport athlete while at Tulane, playing baseball along with playing quarterback on the football team. Duhon went on to become the 70th overall pick in the 1968 NFL/AFL Draft where he was picked by the New York Giants. Duhon spent four years in the NFL, all with the Giants, where he rushed for 840 yards and four touchdowns during his pro career.
2) Bob Toledo, Tulane Head Coaching Record 15-40
Trigger alert to the YOGWF crowd on this one. Good ole’ Bob Toledo had a rough go of it in New Orleans, coaching Tulane from 2007-2011. Toledo came to Tulane from Westwood, CA where he was the coach of UCLA from 1996-2002 and led the Bruins to a 1997 Cotton Bowl victory and a final AP ranking of fifth in the country.
Toledo never won more than three conference games while coaching Tulane when the Green Wave were in an at the time relatively weak C-USA. Things were looking so bad for Coach Toledo in 2011 that he put his New Orleans house on the market before the season even began. He would go on to resign seven games into that year.
To Toledo’s credit, he came into a tough situation. He took over in 2007, just two years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the program, the school, and the city. Toledo was also responsible for luring Tulane legend and California native Ryan Griffin to come and play for the Green Wave. Griffin went on to set Tulane records in pass attempts, completions, and completion percentage while finishing second in program history in passing yards.
Toledo’s time at Tulane can best be described by the highlight of his tenure, which was a 17-14 victory over a Rutgers team in 2010 that finished 4-8 on the year and 1-6 in the Big East. Following his time at Tulane, Toledo went on to become the offensive coordinator at San Diego State from 2013 and 2014.
3) Buddy Teevens, Tulane Head Coaching Record 11-45
Last but not least, Buddy Teevens coached Tulane from 1992-1996. Teevens came to New Orleans from Dartmouth where he is the coach currently. Tulane was an Independent for most of Teevens’ tenure in Uptown, 1992-1995, and joined C-USA in 1996. Teevens first became a head football coach at the collegiate level in 1985 when he became the head coach at the University of Maine at the age of 28. Teevens was only 35 when he became the head coach of the Green Wave seven years later.
Kevin White, the Tulane athletic director who hired Coach Teevens said in retrospect, “Tulane was Division 1-A in codification only. When Buddy arrived there was no chance.” Teevens was so detail oriented at the time, that he insisted on cutting the grass on the practice field and painting the locker room.
Tulane never won more than four games under Teevens, and his worst year coaching the Green Wave was the 1994 season when the team finished 1-10. Tulane’s sole win that year was a 15-13 victory over Rice.
After leaving Tulane in 1996, Teevens went on to become the head coach at Stanford where he had a 10-23 record over three years and has been the coach at Dartmouth since 2005. Teevens experienced national fame recently when his practicing philosophy, Dartmouth eliminated full-contact practices after an injury-ridden 2009 season, started to take-off in the NFL. While a good, honest, and intelligent man, this New England born coach never felt at-home coaching college football in the Deep South.
Honorable Mention: Andy Pilney and Curtis Johnson