The Tulane team buses will arrive at the hotel sometime Friday in Columbus, and the first man stepping off will proceed to the storage doors, unlock them and begin unloading equipment and luggage onto carts.

That person won’t be the Green Wave manager, nor will it be the driver.

 

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Coach Willie Fritz, who is paid more than $1 million per season, will pitch in just like in the days he washed uniforms as a high school coach, drove the team bus to national championship games at Blinn Junior College and mowed, watered and lined the field at Central Missouri.

“I’ll tell you what, I have put my nose to the grindstone and worked hard because I love it," Fritz said. “I’ve enjoyed every level that I’ve coached at. Guys are just a little bigger and faster at this level. I’d be just as happy coaching in high school again."

As for the heavy lifting of suitcases and duffel bags, Fritz had a ready answer.

“As the head coach, I think I should know a little bit about everybody’s job," he said.

Tulane fans just want Fritz, 58, to do what seems like the impossible job of bringing the team back to respectability. The Green Wave (1-2) plays fourth-ranked Ohio State (3-0) on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

The team has had five winning seasons in 36 years, hasn’t been a factor on the national scene since the 1948, ’49 and ’50 seasons and hasn’t had extended success since 1929-34, when it was in the Southeastern Conference.

It took athletic director Troy Dannen approximately five minutes to offer Fritz the job. He rewarded him for going 5-7 last season and 4-8 in 2016 by extending his contract through 2023.

Why all the faith in him?

“Willie has been at all those places and he also has won at all those places," Dannen said. “He didn’t inherit strong programs and in a two- to three-year period he brought all of them back up. I knew what he did at Sam Houston State when I was at Northern Iowa. Not a lot of FCS coaches have been given the opportunity to go to FBS and prove themselves. He’s a first-class human being and anti-prima donna."

Fritz was head coach four years at Blinn, 13 at Central Missouri, four at Sam Houston State and two at Georgia Southern before getting this dream shot. His career record is 203-91-1.

Blinn was 5-24-1 in the three seasons before his arrival, then won 39 games and national championships in ’94 and ’96. In ’01, he led Central Missouri to its first postseason game in 32 seasons. He took Sam Houston State to the FCS national championship game in ’11 and ’12, both losses.

What got Fritz the most attention was taking Georgia Southern to records of 9-3 in ’14 and 9-4 and the GoDaddy Bowl in ’15 when it was making the transition from FCS power to FBS newbie.

“Every job I’ve taken has been like Tulane — they were down," Fritz said. “I didn’t know much about the job. I got a phone call and got the opportunity. You have to keep your nose to the grindstone. We’re really close right now. We have to turn these close losses into wins. I’m very, very fortunate. There are only 130 of these jobs in Division I."

Offensive right guard John Leglue, a senior, thinks Fritz will turn the Green Wave into a winner.

“He’s a very level-headed guy and has worked his way from the bottom up," he said. “He has been everywhere."

Offensive coordinator Doug Ruse has been almost everywhere with Fritz and said the big contract and move to the big-time has not changed the man.

“Coach has a team philosophy that hasn’t changed much in 20 years," Ruse said. “He demands certain things, but it all starts with work ethic. We like to consider ourselves a blue-collar staff."

Ruse said Fritz is proving a point in his rise from junior college to Tulane.

“Ball is ball, and it’s all relative," he said.

Dannen said, “He doesn’t have to mow the lines here, but there is nothing beneath him."

mznidar@dispatch.com

@MarkZnidar