Steve Kragthorpe has this theory about how to build a successful college
football program. Simply put, everybody matters.
The trainer who tapes ankles for Tulsa is just as important as the player
who holds out his leg, and that player is just as important as the coach who
"See, if that trainer doesn't tape the ankle well enough and the player
gets hurt, then I can't coach him," says Kragthorpe. "No one person more
important than the other. Everyone has a role to play. It has allowed us an
aura of confidence in our preparation. Everyone is held to the same high
standard, no matter what their role is."
Too simple? Sure. Too corny? Probably. Too cliché? No doubt.
Tulsa's answer: Too bad.
The system, in this case, has produced results beyond what the Golden Hurricanes and
their athletic department could have dreamt when Kragthorpe agreed to assume
control of the program last December. Pathetic doesn't begin to portray
Tulsa in recent seasons, or is there a better way to describe 2-21 over two
But with a 34-32 win at San Jose State on Saturday, Tulsa finished its
first regular season under Kragthorpe 8-4 overall and 6-2 in the WAC,
guaranteed no worse a league finish than tied for second.
Think about that -- two wins in 23 games before this season and now eight
in the last 12. You can bet those who follow and support and work for the
program will mention a certain head coach when handing out doses of thanks
this holiday week.
"Confidence was a big thing we needed to instill more of when we got
here," said Kragthorpe, an assistant coach with the Buffalo Bills before
arriving in Tulsa. "The other thing was accountability, to realize there is
a consequence for your actions. When you're in the real world and you show
up on time and work hard, you get a paycheck at the end of the week. When
you don't do those things, you get fired.
"Positive consequence, negative consequence. It's the same with being a
member of this team."
He is a coach's son, having watched Dave Kragthorpe hold assistant and head
coaching jobs for the likes of Montana, BYU, Idaho State and Oregon State.
He is also a tutor of quarterbacks, and it is in this area Tulsa made
tremendous strides this season.
Kragthorpe essentially turned junior James Kilian from just-a-guy backup
into future all-conference material. Kilian has a pass efficiency rating of
130.86 and is the team's second-leading rusher.
"He is a whole different player than he was last year," said Rice coach
Ken Hatfield. "In fact, most of the players (Kragthorpe) did this with were
already there playing.
"I'm not only voting for Steve as conference Coach of the Year, but I'm
going to push him for national Coach of the Year. For what he has done at
Tulsa, he deserves that kind of recognition."
It's not just the quarterback. It's a running back (Eric Richardson) with
798 yards and another (Uril Parrish) with 537. It's a defense that is tops
among conference teams against the pass, a significant accomplishment in
this throw-first-last-always league. It is the best red zone and fourth-down
offense in the WAC. It is a team with a conference-best turnover margin of
plus-8. It is having Kilian go down with injury in the first half at San
Jose State and having reserve Paul Smith enter to rally the team from a
It is, without question, the nation's most impressive turnaround this
And it all begins with Kragthorpe.
"I really admire what he has been able to do and how hard he has his kids
playing," said San Jose State coach Fitz Hill. "He has just done a
So has the trainer.
And the players.
And the assistant coaches.
And the equipment manager.
And the kid who runs for water.
In the world of Steve Kragthorpe, they are all one in the same.
In the world of Tulsa football, one man deserves much gratitude.
Ed Graney covers college football for the San Diego Union-Tribune.