Blankenship found early success as head coach, winning the Conference-USA in 2012, and beating a (now Power Five) Iowa State, in the Liberty Bowl. Since then Blankenship has only won five games compared to nineteen losses.
“It’s a bottom line business, college athletics, obviously it’s about academics and student athletes and what you instill in these young men as a coach, but at the end of the day you are held accountable for winning as well. Being 5–19 in the last two years, and 4–12 in the conference, those were the overriding factors,” Gragg said in his post-announcement press conference.
Asked whether or not he had any ideas on replacements for Blankenship, Gragg said, “The whole saying is that an athletic director should always have a short list ready, but we’re going to hire a search firm like we did for basketball, and that firm will help us in the development of a good shortlist.”
“I think this school has a lot of history and legacy, especially in the past decade, and going forward we want a winning program, and even though we sit outside of the Power Five, we still have access to playing those game. So we want to get back to the point where we are competing for championship, first and foremost in the conference, that’s what we’ve thrived on in the past and I think that is what will carry us going forward.”
One of the big concerns and debates for a school like Tulsa, is being a stepping stone school, where we can either hire an young coach who can invigorate the program and leave, or coach more likely to stay who might not bring that same invigoration. “I’m comfortable with (hiring a new coach every two to three years) if we are being successful, I’d rather have that,” said Gragg.
When asked if he thought that Tulsa faced a disadvantage in terms of recruiting Gragg said, “I think recruiting is very important, so if you look at the recruiting calendar, you need to be able to salvage it (with a quick new hire). I don’t think it’s hard to recruit here at all, we just have to do a good job at keeping the guys here. We can’t do anything here to compromise our athletics.”
Blankenship, who played quarterback for the Hurricane in the 1970s, was very thankful to Tulsa for the opportunity saying, “It’s been a tremendous pleasure to get to represent my alma mater, it’s been an honor and I’m very thankful to President Upham for giving me the opportunity four years ago.”
Blankenship did bring up the fact that we currently have a young football team that doesn’t have a ton of experience. “I really believe that it really matters at a mid-major level when you don’t have a mature football team and we had a void in those two classes, we didn’t have that many scholarship players left in those two classes and we knew that we were going to have a rebuilding year, it’s just taken longer than we thought it would.”
“What I hope is that this will be the catalyst, there is the opportunity here, there was a significant step when we moved to the American Conference in terms of what we have to offer our players, and students, and athletes, and resources. We’ve been very successful without a lot of the resources that out competition has, and we’ve taken a lot of pride in that, but I think that divide is getting bigger and bigger.”
When asked about difficulties with being known as an academic school, Blankenship said that “It’s a tough environment (being a school with an average ACT of 29 and 1 of 9 students a national merit student), and we have found guys that can thrive here, but we need to do that on a regular basis and expand the recruiting base.”
Blankenship is convinced that his career as a coach is not over, and that he does not regret his time at Tulsa. When asked if he thought the expectations were too high givn the kind of school Tulsa is, he said “No, where do you want to go, where the expectations are just average?”
The University of Tulsa will look to hire a new coach in the near future, and bring Tulsa back to it’s winning ways.