In August 2005, Chris Scelfo entered his seventh season at the helm of the Tulane football program having already made his mark as one of the most successful coaches in the history of Green Wave football. Up to that time, Scelfo's success was measured in the "traditional" ways - in victories, longevity, bowl wins, players graduated, NFL players coached and records set.
But the events of Fall 2005 gave a new definition to success, to overcoming adversity and to leadership. After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and floodwaters engulfed New Orleans, shutting down Tulane's campus, Scelfo guided his football team through a season like no other in the history of college football. From the team's evacuation - first to Jackson, Miss., and then to Dallas and finally to a temporary home in Ruston, La. - to the challenge of playing 11 games in 11 weeks in 11 stadiums, Scelfo and his players and coaches overcame weekly obstacles just to take the field.
When it was over, Tulane's success was not measured in wins, but in the way Scelfo and his team represented themselves, Tulane University and the people of New Orleans. For their efforts, the Green Wave earned recognition across the nation, and at the close of the season, received the Courage Award from the Football Writer's Association of America, and the Disney Spirit Award from Disney's Wide World of Sports, as well as the Keith Jackson Award for Bravery. Every organization lauded the spirit and determination of the Green Wave to continue playing, despite being uprooted from their homes, attending classes on a strange campus and living in an antiquated dorm, while spending the entire season looking for any semblance of a "routine."
Individually, Scelfo was honored by the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association as its 2005 Coach of the Year as his entire focus shifted not to games but to the welfare and well-being of his players.
"Two-thousand five was a very stressful and eventful time in the lives of the members of the Tulane football program," Scelfo said. "Everyone associated with the program was affected in some way and has emerged stronger as a result of their perseverance. Your life can change in an instant, and how you react in adverse situations contribures to your success or failure overall."
Even before guiding Tulane through the "Katrina season," Scelfo had made his mark on the Green Wave program. Now, as he enters his eighth season as the Tulane head coach, Scelfo:
Is the only coach in Tulane history with two bowl victories after coaching the team to the
1998 Liberty Bowl and 2002 Hawai'i Bowl championships;
Ranks second all-time at Tulane in games coached with 82 and will become the school's all-time leader by the end of the 2006 season;
Is fourth on the school's all-time coaching wins list and has won more games than any Green Wave head coach in the last 65 years;
Has sent nine of his Tulane players to the NFL, including a pair of first-round draft choices in quarterbacks Patrick Ramsey (Jets) and J.P. Losman (Bills);
Coached the school's all-time leaders in passing, rushing and all-purpose yardage, touchdown catches, scoring, punting and quarterback sacks;
Leads one of the most well-rounded programs in Division I-A as the football team has posted an average graduation rate of 75 percent in the last four years, while nearly 80 of his student-athletes have earned their degrees since 2001.
Scelfo, the 36th head football coach in Tulane history, has built a program geared toward seeing his players succeed on the field and in the classroom, while preparing them for the future with a steady diet of discipline, hard work and unwavering support.
"As a college coach, you're involved in every aspect of a student's life," Scelfo said. "As a coaching staff, our goal is to make sure we give each player the support he needs to be successful, academically, athletically and spiritually."
That philosophy has given the Wave's 43-year-old head coach a reputation as a "players' coach." During the school year, hardly a day goes by without one of his student-athletes stopping by his office. He regularly meets with a committee of players, and with the seniors, to discuss team issues - from academic requirements to scheduling to disciplinary measures.
A native of New Iberia, La., native, Scelfo is the son of a legendary Louisiana high school football coach and a schoolteacher. From his parents, hequickly learned the lessons of hard work, loyalty and discipline, which he now passes on to his players.
This combination has been a formula for success for the Green Wave since Scelfo took the reins of the program on Dec. 7, 1998. Less than a month later, he picked up his first victory as a collegiate head coach when Tulane completed a magical 12-0 season with a victory over BYU in the Liberty Bowl.
That win was the beginning of a six-year run which has seen the Green Wave win another bowl game (the 2002 Hawai'i Bowl) while Scelfo has climbed the Tulane career coaching charts. Only three coaches in school history - and no coach in the last 65 years - have compiled more victories in New Orleans than Scelfo.
His players have likewise achieved unprecedented levels of success, on the playing field, in the classroom and at the next level of football. During Scelfo's time at Tulane, 14 Green Wave players have earned first-team All-Conference awards while three were named All-Americans and two more were honored as Freshman All-Americans. Seth Marler, who won the 2001 Lou Groza Award as the nation's best kicker, became Tulane's first first-team All-American since 1987.
Scelfo's teams have featured players whose names now crowd the tops of the Tulane career records charts, from Ramsey, the all-time leading passer, to Mewelde Moore, the most prolific running back in school history. Marler is the school's all-time leading scorer, receiver Roydell Williams set the school and conference record for career touchdown catches, and linebacker Anthony Cannon is No. 3 on the C-USA career tackle charts. Scelfo-coached players also own the career records for punting average, quarterback sacks and pass break-ups.
Scelfo's commitment to the academic development and achievements of his players is evident in every aspect of his program. From scheduling spring practice around players' class schedules to excusing players from spring drills to allow them to concentrate on academics, school considerations come first. Even recruiting is accomplished with an eye toward the future academic success of the student-athlete.
"Graduating student-athletes and producing quality young men go hand-in-hand with building a successful football program," Scelfo said. "If an individual can't have success in the classroom here, he's not going to be able to have much success as a member of our football program."
In the classroom, the proof of Scelfo's dedication to his student-athletes is in the results. Tulane's 75 percent football graduation rate over the last four years ranks among the nation's best. In 2002, Tulane received national acclaim for posting the No. 1 graduation rate of any bowl team in the country and in the last four years alone, Scelfo has seen almost 80 of his football players earn their degrees from Tulane, including NFL players Ramsey, Losman, Moore, Marler and Williams.
Losman, the No. 17 pick in the 2004 draft, became the highest pick from Tulane since 1961 in joining Ramsey, a 2002 draftee by the Washington Redskins (now with the New York Jets), as a first-round choice. When Moore was chosen by the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth round of the 2004 draft, it marked the first time since 1989 that Tulane had two players selected in the same year. Williams joined the group in 2005 when he was tabbed as a fourth-round selection by the Tennessee Titans following a record-breaking career, and last year, linebacker Anthony Cannon became Tulane's first defensive player to be drafted since 1994. In all, Scelfo has had at least one Tulane player picked in seven of the last eight years, while 21 players either signed free agent contracts or were drafted.
Under Scelfo, Tulane is once again a regular stop for NFL scouts. Thirteen Tulane players have made 15 appearances in postseason bowl games in the last five years, including six who have played in the prestigious Senior Bowl. Scelfo himself was chosen to coach the offense for the Gray team at the Annual Blue-Gray All-Star game in Mobile, Ala., following the 2001 season.
Even before his arrival at Tulane, Scelfo was known as a successful offensive coach who built offenses and offensive lines. In his two previous coaching stops - at Georgia as assistant head coach and offensive line coach from 1996-98, and at Marshall as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach from 1990-95 - his teams advanced to postseason play in seven of nine seasons and posted eight winning records.
Georgia compiled a record of 23-11 during his three seasons there, including a 10-2 season in 1997. In Athens, Scelfo coached three offensive linemen who were first or second round NFL draft picks -- Matt Stinchcomb, Adam Meadows and Chris Terry.
During Scelfo's time at Marshall, the Thundering Herd reached the I-AA national semifinals five times, the national finals four times, and won the 1992 national championship. With Scelfo as the offensive coordinator from 1993-95, Marshall led the conference in scoring offense three years, in total offense twice and in passing offense once. As offensive line coach, Scelfo's players twice claimed the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, given to the best blocker in the conference.
Scelfo began his collegiate coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, now the University of Louisiana at Monroe. The Indians won the I-AA national title in 1987 during Scelfo's tenure as a coach there, which came on the heels of his playing career at the school then known as Northeast Louisiana.
As a player, Scelfo was a three-year letterman at center who served as team captain his senior season. By the time he earned his bachelor's degree from Northeast Louisiana in 1986, Scelfo knew that he would follow in his father's footsteps and become a coach. Sam Scelfo had been a high school football coach in Louisiana for 29 years whose programs produced players like Green Wave great Bobby Duhon, and who became famous in the state's prep lore for winning the state AA championship with a team of only 12 players.
"I knew that I wanted to coach," Scelfo said. "Football has been good to me and the game can be so much fun if you work at it. As a college coach, you have an opportunity to positively influence young people at a critical time in their lives."
Scelfo's influence has extended beyond the playing field and classroom to the community, where Green Wave players are expected to serve as role models. They regularly speak at local schools, visit the local Children's Hospital and get involved with programs like the Special Olympics. A pair of his players - Georgia offensive lineman Matt Stinchcomb and Tulane quarterback Ramsey - have been awarded the National Scholar-Athlete Award, which recognizes excellence on the field, in the classroom and in the community. In 2005-06, snapper Craig Gelhardt was honored as a Coca-Colar Community All-American in recognition of his post-Katrina clean-up efforts, while Matt Traina was a semifinalist for the Draddy Award, the "Academic Heisman."
"Our players are role models, and they accept that responsibility," Scelfo said. "It's a gift when you can have an impact on a young person - whether it's a coach making an impact on a player or a player making an impression on a young fan."
There is no question about the positive impact Scelfo has made on his players, on the Tulane program and on the community. In January 2004, that impact was one of the reasons he was inducted into the Louisiana American-Italian Sports Hall of Fame.
It's apparent that Scelfo, from his rapport with and concern for his players to his emphasis on academics to his exciting offensive and defensive styles to his Louisiana roots, fits at Tulane, and Tulane fits Scelfo.
"I love Tulane," Scelfo said. "It stands for everything good about college football, and provides kids with the opportunity to compete at the highest level, both academically and athletically. It's a special place."
With a special coach.
|2002||Tulane||Head Coach||8-5||Hawai'i Bowl|
|1998||Tulane||Head Coach||1-0||Liberty Bowl|
|Head Coach at Tulane Totals||33-49|
|1998||Georgia||Asst. Head Coach/Offensive Line||8-3||Peach Bowl|
|1997||Georgia||Asst. Head Coach/Offensive Line||10-2||Outback Bowl|
|1996||Georgia||Asst. Head Coach/Offensive Line||5-6|
|Assistant at Georgia Totals||23-11|
|1995||Marshall||Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line||12-3||I-AA Runner-up|
|1994||Marshall||Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line||12-2||I-AA Semifinals|
|1993||Marshall||Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line||11-4||I-AA Runnerup|
|1992||Marshall||Offensive Line||12-3||National Champions|
|1991||Marshall||Offensive Line||11-4||I-AA Runnerup|
|Assistant at Marshall Totals||64-21|
|1989||Oklahoma||Graduate Assistant (WRs)||7-4|
|1988||Oklahoma||Graduate Assistant (OL)||9-3||Citrus Bowl|
|Assistant at Oklahoma Totals||16-7|
|1987||Northeast Louisiana||Graduate Assistant (OL/Tight Ends)||13-2||National Champions|
|1986||Northeast Louisiana||Graduate Assistant (OL/Tight Ends)||5-6|
|Assistant at Northeast Louisiana Totals||18-8|
|Combined Record as a Collegiate Coach (20 years)||154-96 (.616)|
College: Northeast Louisiana, Bachelor's (1986), Master's (1988)
High School: New Iberia (La.) HS (1981)
Birthdate: Sept. 30, 1963
Birthplace: Abbeville, LA
Hometown: New Iberia, LA
Family: Wife, the former Nancy Caldwell of Warren, Ark.
Children, daughter Sarah Beth, 14; son Joseph II, 12.