John Klein: Tulane recovers from Hurricane Katrina but challenges remain
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Saturday, September 10, 2011
9/10/11 at 5:51 AM
Related story: C-USA opener important for TU.
Go to John Klein's Blog
Original Print Headline: Tulane still overcoming challenges after hurricane
NEW ORLEANS - No college team has ever faced the challenges of Tulane's Green Wave.
No athletic director has ever been forced into exile and asked to run a major college athletic department.
And Tulsa native Rick Dickson, who guided Tulane through the most challenging era in college athletics history, says it should never happen again.
"There was so much more to this than just the athletic department," Dickson said. "This was about a university with nearly 180 years of history going out of business for a semester. This was about an entire major American city being completely destroyed and rebuilt.
"This is a story that has taken six years so far and will be another 10 to 20 years before we can really say we are back as a city and as a region. It is an amazing story of the resilience of many, many people."
Tulsa plays Tulane in football on Saturday at the Louisiana Superdome. Just six years ago, thousands of New Orleans residents had to be rescued from the Superdome, which had part of its roof torn off in Hurricane Katrina.
Six years ago, the athletic department at Tulane sat under five feet of water for three weeks.
"We lost everything," Dickson said. "Literally, we had nothing. We didn't have uniforms. We didn't have balls or bats or helmets. Nothing."
No one is saying the Green Wave is all the way back, especially in the highly competitive world of major college football.
However, Dickson, a graduate of Bishop Kelley and TU, was able to celebrate another milestone recently.
At the welcome back to school party for Tulane athletics, he was able to greet over 300 athletes in 16 sports - the first time the school has been back up to its pre-Katrina level.
"It was really a great moment," he said. "I can't tell you how proud and satisfying it was to see those student-athletes from all of the sports at that event.
"It was a very long and very difficult road to get back. But we now have all of our sports back on campus."
Dickson, a former athletic director at Tulsa, has been credited with saving Tulane athletics.
He was determined to save athletics at a school with very high academic standards. Last year, there were 45,000 applications for 1,600 open admission slots to the school.
"This is a school with very high academic standards," Dickson said. "We have to, as an athletic department, fit into that academic standard.
"That is not easy. But, we had to make sure our athletic department could fit into the remake of this university. Tulane was able to re-invent itself after 180 years. That's something that doesn't happen. It was a remarkable process that has happened on this campus."
When Katrina hit, Dickson coordinated the evacuation and relocation of four sports.
Football went to Louisiana Tech. Other sports went to Texas A&M, Baton Rouge and Dallas-Fort Worth.
Dickson moved the athletic department offices to the Conference USA offices in Dallas.
"We had to put together a mini-staff at every location," Dickson said. "We had to have trainers, equipment people, administrators and coaches for four sports in four different locations.
"I can remember getting a shipment of uniforms and loading up our car with them and driving them down to College Station. It is kind of a miracle we were able to keep going during that time."
Keep going they did.
Tulane football played 11 games in 11 stadiums that season. It won twice.
"I can't say enough about those coaches and players," Dickson said. "They endured so much."
Now, Tulane believes it is on the road back to respectability.
The Green Wave is opening two new major athletics facilities this year - a baseball stadium and practice facilities for basketball and volleyball.
In addition, Dickson is working on a plan to build a new Tulane Stadium on campus 36 years after old Tulane Stadium (with 88,000 seats it was the largest stadium in the south) was torn down.
"I certainly understand, having been at Tulsa, the value of having facilities on your campus," Dickson said. "I look around our league and I see facilities being built on campus and the advantages. We need that.
"That's not to say the Superdome hasn't been and continues to be a fabulous home. They've put $400 million into the dome in the last few years to renovate it. Still, I believe we need a home on campus."
Some believe a new Tulane Stadium is a long shot. But the odds are no longer than those that faced Tulane six years ago.