It is an exciting time for Tulane University’s football program. After much pushback from the surrounding neighborhood during its construction, the school’s new Yulman Stadium is slated to host its first home game on Sept. 6 against Georgia Tech. This season also marks Tulane’s entry into the American Athletic Conference. The man at the helm of the football team during this renaissance is Curtis Johnson, or C.J., who has been a revitalizing presence since taking the head coaching reins in 2011. Under the former Saints wide receiver coach’s tenure, the team had its most successful season in more than 15 years and amped its recruiting efforts of Louisiana players. It is the second day of training camp when I talk to Johnson, a deacon at First African Baptist Church and father of six children.
You’ve been referred to as “the best thing since sliced bread.”
(laughs) I don’t know. Sliced bread … I don’t know how good sliced bread is.
But you have really raised the expectations of this program, and your tenure has been characterized by a really quick turnaround of the team. Do you feel higher expectations with the new stadium and new conference going into the season? Absolutely. I think guys come here they wanna play against the best, do the best, showcase their talent and skills. I’ve gotten a lot of help in raising the expectations but I’ll tell you, those kids are awesome. They play hard, they do the right things – it’s a good feeling. I don’t know how many games we’re going to win, but they think like winners.
How would describe the typical Tulane football player? They’re very smart guys, kind of nerdy guys for the most part. They want to do the right thing; they want to win. They’re pleasers. They wanna please you as much as they can.
You have a big focus on recruiting locally. Why was that such a big focus for you coming in? The NFL has more players per capita in the state of Louisiana then anywhere else. It’s always in the top 3, 4 and 5 of signing classes … Florida is usually 1, then Georgia and Louisiana. So in my past, being from here and knowing the amount of talent that’s here, the great culture here, the high school coaches are phenomenal here – so it’s a win-win.
You have the experience of working in a college setting and in the NFL. What do you like about coaching college teams? I love the kids and the emotion. It’s not just business. We don’t teach as much football. We try to teach more about life – what to do in the classroom, what to do even on your date, how to treat people – things like that. Whereas the NFL is hard. Everybody’s good. It’s tough, but we were successful there also.
I hear you and your wife are “inseparable.” She keeps me in line. She dresses me. Everything I wear, she does it. She tells me about my weight. But she’s a good lady. Angel does a great job.
You’re a deacon? Yes. Just got ordained this summer. It was harder than a football game – a lot harder. The preparation was outstanding – the amount of information, the amount of stuff that you just don’t realize goes into all of it. It was fun but it was a little bit stressful. I felt like I had a calling to do something special. You look at your life, the five domains in your life: physical, mental, social and emotional, and the most important thing is: spiritual. I wanted to learn more about God.
Did becoming a deacon change the way you coach or approach the game? No, it’s the same. I’m hard on the players, but I never did cuss or anything. It just tells me a different perspective on things. It makes me concentrate on guys doing the right thing, showing them a different option in their spirituality. I try to help them with that as much as I can.
Do you really feel the excitement in the air right now for the upcoming season? Absolutely. If you think about it, it’ll be the first time in 40 years we’ll be playing back on campus. I think everybody in the community is really excited … Saints are doing great, LSU’s always been a good program and now everyone’s excited to see us from what we did last year. We had some great wins, some great games. And just to get in this new conference. This conference is awesome. It’s a very difficult, but exciting conference.
Name : Curtis “C.J.” John son Age : 52 Born/Raised : St. Rose , Louisiana Resides : Harv ey, Louisiana Education : St. Charles High Schoo l, University of Idaho Favorite movie : Coming to America Fav orite TV show: “Cr iminal Minds” Favorite band/musician: Gap Band and Charlie Wilson Favorite hobby: Going out to dinner a nd to local festivals, swimming Favorite New Orleans restaurant: Li’l Dizzy’s for lunch, Wink’s for breakfast, Snug Harbor for burgers, Desi Vega for steaks, Oceana for seafood (“In Louisiana you gotta put them in categories. You can’t just have one favorite place.”) Favorite book: The Bible Favorite vacation spot: The Bahamas
No one ever calls me Curtis or C.J., they really call me Tiger. So if anyone ever says “Coach” or “C.J.” or “Curtis” I know they really don’t know me, but when they call me Tiger, they really know me.