John Klein: Blankenship's focus steadies TU football
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Friday, December 28, 2012
12/28/12 at 4:47 AM
Related story: He’s no ‘daddy’s boy’ hire.
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: Blankenship's focus steadies TU football
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - It was a typical Tuesday of game week for Tulsa football coach Bill Blankenship.
Practice was scheduled for 3 p.m. and Blankenship was out the door and headed to the practice field when he got an urgent call from University of Tulsa Executive Vice President Kevan Buck.
"I was told it was a mandatory meeting for all head coaches," said Blankenship. "Like the other coaches, I figured we were headed to a new conference. That had been the hot rumor for weeks."
Instead, just four days before TU played in the Conference USA championship football game, Buck told Tulsa coaches that there were allegations of gambling by athletic director Ross Parmley.
In addition, two more C-USA teams (Tulane and East Carolina) were headed to the Big East, bringing the number of teams leaving Tulsa's league to six.
"It was all very surprising news," said Blankenship. "There was nothing we could do about it.
"So, I went out to practice and focused on what we had control over, which was preparing to play well in the championship game."
Parmley was later terminated during an investigation, and the conference situation remains unresolved.
Just one thing has remained stable through all of the uncertainty surrounding TU athletics - Tulsa football.
The Golden Hurricane is in Memphis this week preparing for the Liberty Bowl against Iowa State.
Tulsa is 10-3, winner of the league championship game during one of the most tumultuous weeks in Tulsa athletics history.
When all else seemed to be imploding around him, Blankenship kept the Golden Hurricane focused.
Regardless of what happens in the Liberty Bowl, Blankenship and his staff deserve a lot of credit.
"I think you have to give a lot of credit to our older players," said Blankenship. "They didn't ask a lot of questions. They understood the need to focus on getting ready to play. They understood how important that was.
"They knew a lot of stuff was going on around them, but they stayed focused on what they had to do. I think credit goes to everyone on our football team, from the staff to the players. Everyone just put their head down and kept working."
That's what makes the Golden Hurricane a rather amazing story.
Despite what some coaches might try to tell you, players and coaches do read newspapers and the Internet, watch television news and listen to sports talk radio.
They do not live in a vacuum.
The days leading up to the Conference USA championship game were some of the worst and most uncertain for Tulsa athletics.
Yet, at a time when it would have been easy for Tulsa football to collapse, the Golden Hurricane flourished.
No athletic director. A conference in disarray. A looming NCAA investigation.
"We had a staff meeting and talked about it," said Blankenship. "We talked about the conference realignment situation and the athletic director situation. We had to focus on what we could control, and we had no control over those things.
"Sometimes the unknown can paralyze you. So I gave them all of the facts we had, and we moved on."
Moving on, overcoming adversity and finding success has been a recurring theme for the Golden Hurricane this season.
Tulsa opened the season with very high hopes but lost the season opener at Iowa State, a game Tulsa was favored to win and a game TU dominated early.
It was a bitter disappointment.
Yet, Tulsa responded by winning its next seven before going to Arkansas, where most believed the Golden Hurricane would finally overcome history and win in Fayetteville. Instead, once again, strange officiating and strange plays went against TU and the Hurricane lost.
Tulsa again rebounded just two weeks later to beat UCF and earn a home date for the Conference USA championship game. A loss to SMU to close the season was simply one last hurdle to climb back over, and TU did the next weekend in the league title game.
"That's why this bowl game is so special," said Blankenship. "This wasn't a deal where we finished our season and someone told us where we were going to play. ... We earned our way into this bowl.
"We had to win our league championship to play in this bowl. This was our destination. This is where we wanted to be, and our players earned it."
It was a season that could have been so much more and was close to being so much worse.
"Five more plays and maybe we're playing in the Orange Bowl," said Blankenship. "Five plays go the other direction and maybe we aren't playing in a bowl at all."
In the end, it was 10 victories in a season that could have been wrecked by devastating losses or grim off-the-field news.
Instead, it is a season to remember.
"Some teams thrive with success," said Blankenship. "To be honest, we seemed to thrive under adversity."
TU head coach Bill Blankenship talks with fans before the UTEP v Tulsa football game a Chapman Stadium at the University of Tulsa on Oct 11, 2012. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World