"I was one of those people from far, far away watching when disaster struck," said Toledo, a former head coach at UCLA. "They've had to overcome a lot of adversity and that's one of the things that attracted me here."
When Toledo walked into an atrium in the university's athletic center for his introduction Monday, wearing an olive green suit similar to Tulane's traditional school colors, boosters gave him an extended ovation. With the 60-year-old Toledo, Tulane gets an established coach who has won at big schools and was looking to get one more shot as a head coach.
Toledo coached at UCLA from 1996-2002, compiling a 49-32 record that included a school-record 20-game winning streak and two Pac-10 championships. Despite his success, he was fired in 2002 by Dan Guerrero, then in his first year as UCLA's athletic director, who said he felt the program wasn't heading in the right direction after a 7-5 season.
"Everybody's excited to know that he's a big-time guy and he's coached a lot of good teams," Tulane running back Matt Forte said. "For him to come here, it kind of gives us that attitude to want to win and want to work hard."
Despite new on-campus practice facilities built after Katrina's floodwaters receded, Tulane faces a constant recruiting hurdle because of its relatively high academic standards. Toledo said Pac-10 schools with strong academic reputations, such as UCLA and Stanford, have proven that such schools can field good teams.
"I love challenges. There's no question this is going to be a challenge," Toledo said. "People talk about what happened with Katrina. People talk about the academics and how difficult it is to get players in. Well, I haven't been through a Katrina, thank goodness, but I have lived through the academic part of it. ... Because you're smart doesn't mean you can't be a good football player."
New Mexico coach Rocky Long said he wasn't surprised to be losing Toledo after one season.
"I knew that was a possibility. When I coaxed him out of retirement, I told him if we had some success here he'd probably get a chance to be a head coach again," Long said.
Long said Toledo will continue to coach the Lobos' offense through the Dec. 23 New Mexico Bowl against San Jose State. The Lobos went 6-6 this season.
Toledo will take over for Chris Scelfo, who was fired after Tulane finished 4-8 this season.
Scelfo spent eight seasons at Tulane and went 37-57. He also guided the Green Wave through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when the team was displaced. The Green Wave played 11 games in 11 different cities in 2005 and finished 2-9.
Toledo said he will interview Scelfo's staff first as he fills assistant coaching positions, but also bring in coaches he has established relationships with throughout his career.
The coach said he will focus his recruiting early on in Louisiana, a state that produced numerous NFL players and fields top college recruits every year.
"It's crucial that you attract the players from this area, because not only do you get the kids, you get their parents and their family and their friends to come to the games," Toledo said.
"My goal right now is to get people to support us. And I promise we will be an exciting and entertaining and a winning football team," Toledo said. "Hopefully, the people in this town will get behind us."