Rebuilding Tulane realizes Green Wave of the future isn't now

September 01, 1995|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS -- Shawn Jones has seen how the other side lives. He spent his redshirt freshman season at the University of Miami. He practiced with the team that won a national championship. Then he came back home. To Tulane.

He found perspective.

He found the classroom.

He found out how to lose, more than he ever imagined.

"It was all a big adjustment," Jones said recently. "A really big adjustment."

Jones, now a fifth-year senior and one of Tulane's defensive captains, hopes that he will find something else this year. But when you're coming off a 1-10 season that ended with nine straight losses, you never know what disaster is lurking in the distance.

Buddy Teevens doesn't know either. Teevens came down four years ago with a pretty good reputation, one carved out from seven mostly successful years at Maine and Dartmouth. It ended with back-to-back 7-2 records and a couple of Ivy League championships.

But Teevens quickly found out what most of his predecessors did.

He found out that winning doesn't come easily in the Big Easy.

Especially at Tulane.

"I was pretty realistic," said Teevens, who is 6-28 going into his fourth season. "I knew it wasn't going to be a quick-fix situation."

Or even a slow fix. But that doesn't mean Teevens, his staff and his players won't set some loftier goals for the 1995 season, which begins tomorrow at the Superdome against Maryland. At this stage, 4-7 would be more than just a vast improvement.

Some might think it would be a miracle.

Consider: Despite having the most experienced team since he arrived in town, Teevens will start a quarterback, Alie Demarest, whose only Division I-A experience came at the end of one game last year, and a place-kicker, redshirt freshman Brad Palazzo, who has never taken a live snap.

"It hasn't been entirely different [than I-AA], but the thing I've learned is that experience really plays a big part at the Division I level," said Teevens, who has 16 upperclassmen among 22 starters. "It makes a big difference."

So does talent. For the first time under Teevens, the Green Wave has a few decent athletes who can compete with those on the opposing teams. Whether Tulane has enough of them to be competitive will be discovered shortly.

Demarest might not be one of them, but what the 6-foot-1 senior lacks in arm strength and foot speed he makes up in leadership skills, especially decision-making. That could be the difference between Tulane's becoming respectable or remaining awful.

"It's been that way here for so long, for so many guys, that nobody wants to take the brunt of a losing team," said Demarest, who came home after playing two seasons of Division III football at Georgetown. "Nobody wants to step forward and be the leader. The quarterback is the natural guy."

Last year, many of Tulane's problems were directly attributable to its quarterbacks. Of the 43 turnovers -- the most of any Division I-A team in the country, as was the negative-23 turnover ratio -- 36 were the result of interceptions or fumbles off poor handoffs and botched snaps.

"We'd like to think the decision-making process will improve," said Teevens.

Teevens is hoping that Demarest can be one of college football's best rags-to-riches stories this season, just as he hopes that his program's days of being mentioned among the Bottom 10 in the country are in the past. A win over Maryland won't bring any national headlines, but it might be a sign of better days ahead.

"We have a sense that we have to win because it's time," said Jones. "There's a sense of urgency."

Nobody is ready to run the popular Teevens out of town. After being selected over another highly successful Division I-AA coach from New England -- a fellow from Holy Cross named Mark Duffner -- Teevens has a contract through 1998. If the Green Wave can stay injury- and mistake-free, who knows?

"We've defeated ourselves in many games," said Teevens, whose record against Duffner fell to 0-6 with last year's 38-10 loss in College Park. "Before we can turn this thing around, first we have to beat Tulane."

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