Friday, October 3, 2003


Coach brings W’s
back to Tulsa

The Golden Hurricane seem
to be moving in the right direction

TULSA, Okla. >> The overstuffed couch in the Tulsa football head coach's tastefully cluttered office is as comfortable as they come. But it's strictly for visitor seating, not for Steve Kragthorpe to use for a 45-minute nap as one long day turns into the next.

There will be no NFL-style late nights in the office for Kragthorpe. Plenty of early mornings, sure, and some work at home in the evenings -- but no toiling through the night and starting the next morning with a wrinkled shirt, bleary eyes and not having seen his wife and three sons.

On the road

Who: Hawaii vs. Tulsa
When: Tomorrow, 1:05 p.m., Hawaii time
Where: Skelly Stadium, Tulsa, Okla.
TV: Live on KFVE
Radio: Live on KKEA-1420

One reason the Golden Hurricane's first-year coach left the NFL, where he was quarterbacks coach for the Buffalo Bills, was to get back to a sense of normalcy and a feeling of home. For Kragthorpe, that meant returning to the college game.

"I don't dislike the NFL. I like college football more at this point," Kragthorpe said yesterday. "To a man, the retired coaches I've talked to say the one thing they would do differently is spend more time with their wife and kids. The Bills were great, but some NFL teams don't even let your kids be around the offices. That's one thing I can control as head coach here."

Kragthorpe, 38, grew up on university campuses the way military kids grow up on bases. His father, Dave, was a longtime coach. If Kragthorpe the younger learned anything along the way -- from his father as well as other coaches like LaVell Edwards, R.C. Slocum and Dan Henning -- it's that family is more important than the game.

"You can be a great family man and still do a great job," said Kragthorpe, whose staff has 18 children among them. "You have to work hard to be a football coach, it's not a normal job. My philosophy is you have to work 13 hours a day at football to be good. So we come in at 6 a.m., but we're out by 7 at night. To me, we get more work done between 6 and 9 in the morning than we would between 8 and 11 at night. When you work that kind of schedule you never see the kids.

"There are some things you can do at home. Call recruits, look at film," he added. "There's something really settling about going in the door and seeing the kids for 30 or 45 minutes. Then they go to bed, and if you want, you go throw a tape in the VCR and get a little more work done. That's an advantage I have over my dad. You couldn't bring home the 16 millimeter."

While Kragthorpe values family above football, that doesn't mean the game, and the team, can't become part of the family.

"He's really made it that way, family," Tulsa sports information director Don Tomkalski said. "He's very detail-oriented, but he's also very personable. The players know he knows what it takes to get to the NFL, so that helped him with them. But he knew he had to earn their respect. One of the other things he's done is get former (Tulsa) players involved."

Another thing Kragthorpe's done is win. Nothing huge, mind you, but Tulsa is 2-2, and has won as many games as all of 2001 and 2002 in his first month of in-season action. Still, as he makes final preparations for the Golden Hurricane to host Hawaii tomorrow, Kragthorpe seems to have things in perspective.

"There's still a lot of things that need to be done. You have to temper it with the fact that the two teams we beat (Southwest Texas State and Arkansas State) probably would not win a game in the WAC," Kragthorpe said. "Now we're into the WAC schedule and we have a lot of work ahead of us."

UH COACH JUNE JONES feels the same way, especially since the Warriors (2-2) are 0-2 on the road and visit a team that is 2-0 at home. And Jones sees a kindred spirit of sorts in Kragthorpe.

"He's a good guy, an offensive guy. His dad threw the heck out of the ball. I knew his dad when he was at Oregon State when I was at Portland State. He's a football coach's son who has been in football all his life," said Jones, whose team arrives in Tulsa tonight after two practices in Houston. "He's already done a good job at Tulsa. Over the next four or five years I think Tulsa's going to get going here.

"Their approach to the game is going to give them a chance. When you're at a school like Tulsa, or a school like Hawaii, you better do something a little different from the big boys. Just like the reason there was success when Bob Wagner was here and Paul Johnson's (spread option) offense was a little different and that allowed them to neutralize teams that were physically better than they were. (Tulsa's) approach on both sides of the ball is going to allow them to do that."

Defensively, it's a base alignment that allows Tulsa to rely more on athleticism than hard-to-find bulk. On offense, Kragthorpe plans to throw and throw often, eventually (so far, TU has rushed for more yardage than passed in three games). Perhaps not to the extent of UH and its run-and-shoot, but Kragthorpe is coming from the Buffalo Bills where Kevin Gilbride was the offensive coordinator. And don't forget this is a guy who as a kid played catch with Jim McMahon and Marc Wilson in Provo.

Gilbride and Kragthorpe still talk often.

"But not this week," Kragthorpe said. "They're awful busy coming off a couple tough losses and getting ready for the next game."

Although Kragthorpe sees similarities in Hawaii's run-and-shoot and Gilbride's offense, he said Jones and Gilbride have gone in somewhat different directions since their days together with the Houston Oilers.

"Even Kevin would admit June's taken it to another level. June's continued to expand with the run-and-shoot, whereas Kevin's gone more toward a Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars running attack and springboarding some of the run-and-shoot passes. June's doing a lot of things off it, where Kevin has watered it down and made it more pro-style, sometimes with two tight ends, two backs.

"But there are still a lot of similarities."

Kragthorpe said he has no delusions of out-recruiting Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, not yet anyway. But he added Tulsa is no longer a running, or passing, joke.

"The bit of success we've had helps make it fun for the state of Oklahoma. Now on the radio talk shows they can talk about three teams instead of two," he said. "We're getting some people of a quality considering us that we didn't last year."

Kragthorpe also sees Tulsa rolling the dice on offense in the future -- but with all the sure bets covered.

"We envision ourselves as a team that throws the football," he said. "To me balance is being good enough to attack the defense where they're weak. If they commit to pass coverage, we have to be proficient in the running game. If they want to stack the line of scrimmage, we need to throw effectively."


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