Tulsa hires Blankenship as new coach

Five years ago, Bill Blankenship left a comfortable job at an

Oklahoma high school football powerhouse, taking a leap of faith

that he’d land a college coaching job.

That offer didn’t come until January 2007, when Todd Graham

asked Blankenship to join his staff at Tulsa. Four years later,

with Graham gone to Pittsburgh, Blankenship emerged from a crowded

field of candidates and now has his dream job — as head coach at

his alma mater.

”Who would have thought?” Blankenship said Friday, smiling

wistfully as he was introduced as Tulsa’s new coach. ”To say this

is a great day is an understatement.”

Blankenship takes over a program that has won at least 10 games

three times in the past four seasons, including this past season,

when the Golden Hurricane finished 10-3, beat Hawaii in the Hawaii

Bowl and were ranked No. 24 in The Associated Press’ final poll —

their first top-25 finish since 1991.

Graham announced Monday he was leaving Tulsa after four seasons,

although athletic director Bubba Cunningham said the process to

find his replacement began a couple of weeks earlier, when it

became apparent Graham was listening to other coaching offers.

Names bandied about during the search included Auburn offensive

coordinator Gus Malzahn, who once held that job at Tulsa, former

Tulsa and Louisville head coach Steve Kragthorpe and new Clemson

offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who also left Tulsa on Monday.

Morris said he interviewed for the Tulsa job while Kragthorpe said

he was told he would not receive an interview.

Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee, who grew up in

Tulsa and played for Oklahoma, also interviewed for the job but

withdrew from consideration Friday morning. Blankenship interviewed

Wednesday and Cunningham said he was impressive.

”We thought about Bill the entire time” during the search,

Cunninghamn said. ”Bill has been a head coach for 20 years and an

assistant for four years. He has done everything we asked him to do

and done it well.

”We hired a guy we thought would lead our program in a positive

direction. I just think that Bill Blankenship is outstanding.”

Blankenship turned down legendary Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer

in 1975 and instead opted to play for Tulsa because the Golden

Hurricane ”were the only team around that was throwing the ball

and had a pro-style passing attack. … That was one of the

greatest decisions of my life.”

Blankenship played for F.A. Dry and John Cooper at Tulsa, and

among Blankenship’s quarterback coaches during that time were Jerry

Rhome and Larry Coker, who later won a national championship at

Miami. Blankenship passed for 2,113 yards and eight touchdowns

during his playing career.

He followed his father into the high school coaching ranks and

received his first head-coaching job at his prep alma mater, Spiro.

He spent four years there, then became the coach at Edmond

Memorial, a school in an Oklahoma City suburb.

Two years later, he took the job at Union, a Tulsa high school

that is one of the state’s largest but had not enjoyed great

success before his arrival. In 14 years with the Redskins, he won

three titles in Class 6A — Oklahoma’s highest class — and posted

four state runner-up finishes.

In 20 seasons as a prep coach, more than 100 of Blankenship’s

players received college football scholarships and he posted a

205-68 record.

The only time Blankenship became emotional during his

introductory news conference is after he was asked about the leap

of faith he took in leaving Union after the 2005 season. He spent

2006 out of coaching before Graham hired him.

”You know, the one thing I’ve learned about faith is it’s hard

when you look this way,” he said, motioning forward as his voice

broke slightly. ”It’s easy when you look back.”

At Tulsa, he’s worked with special teams, wide receivers and

running backs during his four years. Among his proteges is ace kick

returner Damaris Johnson, who broke the NCAA’s career record for

all-purpose yards this past season as a junior.

Blankenship said that assistant coaches Van Malone, Jess Loepp

and Archie McDaniel will remain on Tulsa’s staff.

Blankenship said he hadn’t yet spoken with Graham but that he

wanted to do so to ask the departed coach to not try and recruit

players who already have committed to Tulsa.

”We’ll have that conversation, I’ll promise you,” Blankenship

said.

Blankenship’s hiring was popular with several players who

attended the announcement, including running back Trey Watts.

”You feel like you know what he’s about,” Watts said. ”You

feel more comfortable having one of your guys. You don’t have to

create a new relationship. … We just love this guy to

death.”