Resurrecting A Team

Sept. 16, 2005

RUSTON, La. -  Less than two months after taking the Director of Football Operations position at Tulane, Dennis Polian is a model of efficiency. Bus bookings, uniform issues, coaches' ticket requests all go through this 28-year-old maestro, and he takes obvious satisfaction from a job well done.


Even so, Polian is nowhere he expected be. Without him, Tulane's season might not be at all.


Polian, the son of Indianapolis Colts' GM Bill Polian, knows what makes a team tick and how to keep it in running order. When Tulane evacuated New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina, Polian was on the phone making plans for the Green Wave's stay away from home. He had no idea then what a huge undertaking that would become.


"It's been hectic," Polian said. "It's been nonstop and it's been a blur, to be honest with you. I couldn't tell you what I did four days ago."


Three weeks ago, he was on the phone with Superdome officials. Tulane had decided to evacuate, but had left the option to practice on Sunday morning before its departure open. As Katrina swung closer, the team decided not to practice just as Polian was notified that the Superdome had been shut down by the government to shelter New Orleans residents in the storm.


Did he realize then what was in store for his team, that this hurricane might uproot their lives entirely?


Not a chance. "We were planning to be away from home through our home opener," Polian said. "For a week at the most, really."


Still, Polian is not one to dwell on what could have happened. He focuses on what needs to be done. This week he was rarely seen without a green notebook in hand, with countless details of the Green Wave's salvaged season recorded in his meticulous handwriting. He is cheerfully determined, a reflection of head coach Chris Scelfo's intention to motivate his student-athletes with his own resilient example.


How, then, do you rebuild a football program from scratch? When Tulane evacuated New Orleans the Green Wave brought enough supplies for a week - practice gear for a stay in Jackson, Miss, away jerseys for their scheduled season opener at Southern Miss. Players had only the basics - workout gear and one or two changes of clothes. Not to mention the hundreds of other little materials that make a Division I football program run - scouting tapes of opposing teams, playbooks, their entire athletic complex that has now taken on water.


After the team escaped from Jackson to safety in Dallas, school took over from football. With their academic records left behind on the Gulf Coast, "our first concern is what we need to have our kids in school and on track to graduate," Polian said.


Under the deal struck with other universities, Tulane players would be able to enroll anywhere and take classes toward their degrees. Once the Tulane football season was given the go ahead, Polian worked with the players, coach Scelfo and their host, Louisiana Tech, to get as many students a class schedule that minimized the disruption in their academic lives.


Class scheduling is only one of the countless elements Polian has dealt with since the team was in a position to think about the future. On the Green Wave's second day at practice in Ruston, Polian coordinated the team's upcoming "home" game against Mississippi State in Shreveport's Independence Bowl. In one conversation he covered players' parents looking for their tickets, a possible performance by the regrouped Tulane cheerleaders and the logistics of those away jerseys that journeyed with the team. A Director of Football Operations, it seems, can also be enlisted to find a seamstress to put Tulane's commemorative "The Torch, The Face, The Name" patch on each players' jersey.


Polian's workload has not been easy - with a support staff of close to 50 people cut down to two equipment managers, two trainers, Polian and the team's 13 coaches, everyone has triple-duty.


"Our head coach unloaded the truck with me in Dallas and helped unload here in Ruston," Polian said. "Everybody's got to pitch in to make this work."


Louisiana Tech pitched in whatever space it could provide in the assembly center for Tulane's offices, meeting rooms and locker rooms. Polian shows the meeting rooms, divided into position areas by quickly thrown up foam core board and marked with a paper sign taped to the makeshift wall. He opens the locker room, a large meeting room with rows of chairs that serve as "lockers," the taped signs here serving as locker numbers. He manages to explain without discouragement that the twenty-some staff is working with only seven phone lines, and he is still foraging for a printer and fax machine for the football office. It's another challenge for Polian to record and tackle, another reason his cell phone keeps ringing.


In some ways, Polian's job has the same focus it did back in New Orleans. He works to find "that constant balance [for players], making sure they're healthy mentally and physically and then making sure that we have what we need for our coaches to prepare for games."


It's a tough job, but Polian is just the man to do it.


Jessica Garrison is an Assistant Editor for and will be on assignment in Louisiana this week. She can be reached here with comments or questions.



Football Home

As Tulane's Director of Football Operations, Dennis Polian has had his hands full over the past month