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Bill Blankenship has Tulsa football going strong

University of Tulsa president Steadman Upham hired a football coach known more for his victories on Friday nights than anything achieved on a college campus. Tulsa football is in better shape than it's ever been.
by Berry Tramel Published: April 8, 2013
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photo - Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship takes the field with his team before the college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Tulsa University Hurricanes (TU) at the Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011, in Norman, Okla.  Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD
Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship takes the field with his team before the college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Tulsa University Hurricanes (TU) at the Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011, in Norman, Okla. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD

TULSA — Steadman Upham took a chance on Bill Blankenship.

The University of Tulsa president hired a football coach known more for his victories on Friday nights than anything achieved on a college campus.

Hired a football coach who wouldn't cost a million dollars a year and who might not bolt for a bigger job at the first taste of success.

Sometimes such decision-making can make you settle. Not this time.

Two years into the job, Blankenship has the Golden Hurricane going strong. Tulsa football is in better shape than it's ever been.

“We took a chance with Bill,” Upham admitted. “We took some criticism for that. Some people thought he wasn't tested, too soon out of the high school ranks.”

Blankenship had spent four years on the TU staff, after building a powerhouse program at Union High School in south Tulsa.

But when Todd Graham left TU for Pitt, four years after Steve Kragthorpe left for Louisville, the Tulsa administration was ready for some stability.

“We saw something in Bill,” Upham said. “And I'm glad we followed our instincts and put him in that job. He's everything we could have asked for and plus.

“The program is very strong. We're recruiting extremely well. And we have been for five or six years, and it's getting better and better.”

* *

Blankenship, a 1979 TU graduate, looks out the window of his spacious, but not ostentatious, office in the Case Athletic Complex, which overlooks the pristine H.A. Chapman Stadium. When he was a backup quarterback in the 1970s, Tulsa football was vastly different.

The TU football headquarters opened in 2007. The football stadium was completely renovated in 2008.

The Liberty Bowl trophy sits nearby. A new league, the American Athletic Conference, with old rivals and new solid names, awaits TU in 2014.

In two years as the Golden Hurricane coach, Blankenship is 19-8, continuing the Tulsa renaissance that has produced 80 victories the last 10 years, after TU won 30 the 10 years before that.

Good facilities. A winning tradition. Conference upgrade. A coach who in many ways is Mr. Tulsa Football. This is not the old TU football.

“I would say the University of Tulsa is in better shape than it's ever been, the accomplishments we've had throughout the Stedman Upham regime,” Blankenship said. “This is a different place than it was eight years ago. Fortunately, football's one of the beneficiaries of that.”

Indeed, capital improvements have remade the TU campus, home to the smallest enrollment (4,352) in Division I-A football.

Of course, Blankenship is a football coach. He would always like more. An indoor facility would be nice. Another weight room, to go with the new one shared by all TU teams. Other amenities. College football at this level is big business.

But Blankenship is not complaining. He knows some of his predecessors didn't have the digs he enjoys. “We don't have the biggest but we really have nice facilities,” Blankenship said.

And TU is making the most of it. Tulsa is back in the business of knocking off name-brand teams. Under Graham, Tulsa beat Brigham Young in 2007 and Notre Dame in 2010. Last December, Tulsa beat Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl, TU's first bowl win over a major-conference foe since beating Ole Miss in the 1964 Bluebonnet.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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