Kragthorpe's simple plan is working

Originally Published: November 26, 2003
By Ed Graney | Special to

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 develops schemes.

Steve Kragthorpe
Steve Kragthorpe led Tulsa to an 8-4 record in his first year.
"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 years?

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 26-14 deficit.

It is, without question, the nation's most impressive turnaround this season.

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 magnificent job."

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.