Tulane Coach Chris Scelfo was standing in the back billiards room of the Doubletree Hotel at Campbell Center here Tuesday afternoon, chalking up a cue stick as he prepared to play a game against his son.
"If we're going to talk, we've got to do it while I do this," Scelfo said to a reporter.
Scelfo, whose Green Wave football team fled New Orleans more than a week ago and probably won't be going back to its campus anytime soon because of damage caused by flooding from Hurricane Katrina, is getting used to juggling several things at once. Scelfo says he has slept nine hours since Aug. 28, the day his team evacuated New Orleans and fled for Jackson, Miss., and then Dallas.
"I'm getting by on adrenaline and coffee," Scelfo said. "You've got the rest of your eternal life to sleep."
For much of the past week, Scelfo has worked tirelessly to find a school, housing, practice facility and stadium for his players. Scelfo and his coaches have searched for necessities such as clothes, water and Gatorade and some luxuries that are now essential in college football -- video projectors to watch film of practice and to scout opponents, massage tables for the training room and more practice uniforms.
"We don't have a home stadium, so we don't need home jerseys," Scelfo said. "Hey, we ain't going back home this year. So we're on the road and that's all we have."
After spending more than a week in Dallas, the Green Wave learned Tuesday that it is getting a new home, albeit another temporary one. Next Monday, Tulane's football players, coaches and support staff will relocate to Louisiana Tech University in Ruston. Tulane's 88 players and a few student managers will enroll in classes there for at least fall semester, and the Green Wave will play many of its six home games at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, La., about 70 miles away.
"I'll play in the parking lot of a Popeye's Fried Chicken and so will my team," Scelfo said.
With most of its campus and athletic facilities under several feet of water from flooding, Tulane is sending student-athletes from its 11 intercollegiate sports teams to five schools in Louisiana and Texas. The football team is sending the largest contingency to Louisiana Tech; 78 student-athletes from the men's basketball, women's soccer, women's volleyball and women's swimming and diving teams are enrolling at Texas A&M in College Station.
Smaller groups of Tulane student-athletes also are going to Texas Tech in Lubbock, Rice University in Houston and Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
"I have shared with our coaches that Tulane athletics has been given a role and a mission," Tulane Athletics Director Rick Dickson said. "We have to carry the message, to Tulanians especially, but also to the whole country, that an institution as valuable as a 170-year-old university and a culture as rich and vibrant as ours in New Orleans, will not and cannot be erased by this disaster."
The Green Wave football team, whose season opener at Southern Mississippi scheduled for this past Sunday was canceled because of damage in Hattiesburg, Miss., will play its opening game against Mississippi State on Sept. 17. The game was scheduled to be played at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, but the dome's roof was damaged by hurricane winds and was used as a makeshift shelter until people were evacuated from the city late last week.
The loss of its home stadium, training facilities and disruption of student life is yet another blow for a Tulane program that was nearly eliminated or dropped to Division III status in 2003 to help the school erase a $7 million annual deficit by its athletic department. Without a home stadium and facilities, it could be very difficult for the Green Wave to recruit high school players. So far, none of Tulane's players have transferred to another school.
"The bottom line in this whole thing is three and a half months, that's our focus," Scelfo said. "We want to persevere for three and a half months. If we can't recruit, and I get let go and I don't have a job, I've got to go get another job."
For now, the Tulane football program is being operated out of a couple of ballrooms in the Doubletree Hotel. The players' locker room is in one ballroom, with jersey numbers hanging over basic banquet chairs. Another ballroom serves as the team meeting room and players' lounge. The Green Wave uses the same projector to study practice film and watch television. Donated goods are kept in a storage room, sorted in bags that include toiletries such as deodorant, soap, toothpaste and shampoo.
Each position coach has his own meeting room, although the team's wide receivers are cramped into a small corner. There's a meeting room for the coaching staff and a local sports medicine firm donated massage tables and other necessities for a makeshift training room. Players eat a breakfast buffet at the hotel, and lunch and dinner at an SMU dining hall.
On Friday, players were taken to a department store, where a Tulane booster purchased them shorts, shirts, slacks and underwear (the NCAA relaxed its rule prohibiting student-athletes from taking gifts from boosters). The University of Oklahoma donated a truckload of Gatorade and the Indianapolis Colts sent T-shirts and shorts for practice gear. The players went to the SMU-Baylor football game on Saturday, and the parents of a Tulane freshman from Dallas hosted the team for a barbeque on Sunday.
"We're holding up pretty good," quarterback Lester Ricard said. "The great thing is we all have our families and they're safe and we're being taken care of."
Ricard, from Denham Springs, La., is more at ease after learning that his uncles who were missing in New Orleans had been found. He received the good news in a text message on his cell phone Friday. He said he's eager to start playing football again.
"We need to win," Ricard said. "When the day comes, we can help people forget about the past and focus on the future and let them know things can get better."
Senior linebacker Anthony Cannon, from Atlanta, sat at a coffee table in the hotel lobby Tuesday night filling out an application for admission to Louisiana Tech. He wondered what was left of the house he shared with cornerback Sean Lucas on Napoleon Avenue near the Tulane campus. The teammates rented the bottom floor of a duplex.
"We had the choice between the upstairs or downstairs floors and we chose downstairs," Cannon said. "I guess that was a bad choice."
Scelfo still isn't sure what became of the house he shared with his wife, Nancy, and children, Sarah, 13, and Joseph, 11. Although he has heard the home didn't suffer much flood damage, it might have been looted and burned. "I have no idea and don't care," Scelfo said.
One of Scelfo's brothers, Frank, is Tulane's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. An older brother, Sam, lost many of the six bakeries he owned in New Orleans and probably lost his house in the floods, too.
"It's all gone," Scelfo said. "He's going to have to rebuild. His whole financial life went down the tubes there. He's going to have to raise three kids in a different way. The economy there isn't going to be operating."
So it's easy to see why Scelfo says he isn't worried about the Green Wave's win-loss record this year.
"I want to be able to say when that final horn sounds, 'We persevered,' " Scelfo said. "When we do it, everybody in the city of New Orleans and everybody that was affected by this, whether they lived there or not, if we affect one person by giving them hope to persevere, I'm the first one on the train to heaven."