Interview with Tulsa Football Head Coach Bill Blankenship
The Head Coach of the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes was gracious enough to accept an interview request. Here is the transcript of our phone interview.
You have coached high school football for over 20 years. What is the biggest difference between being a high school head coach and a collegiate coach?
I think it’s the time involved during the off-season. The football part of the game is really not that much different. Managing a team, managing a staff is very similar. The big changes for me are the public events, the PR, the media events that are called for outside of the regular season. I think by far and away that is the biggest difference.
What is the biggest thing you learned from your experiences coaching football in high school that you implement into your program here at Tulsa?
I think being a good teacher and surrounding yourself with good people. I have been very fortunate over the years to have a great staff. During my time in high school I have been able to surround myself with good guys; generally we have worked together a long time. When you have men around you that you can trust and they are good teachers, then you have a chance to be successful. Teaching the game and teaching life skills I think are the biggest part of this job.
Do you think that your experiences in High School help you or your program in the recruiting process?
I think that helped an awful lot. It gave me an opportunity to see things from another side. As a high school head football coach, I have helped many players go through the process of deciding to play college football. I think being on that side of the table really prepared me for being the guy on the other side of the table that is trying to sell my school and give us as an opportunity to be there for that young man. And I don’t think that there is any question that the experience of being recruited and my blessing of having three sons go through the process themselves made an impact. Those three, as parents, a high school coach, and now as a college coach, are a big deal.
You were an assistant coach under Todd Graham. What is the biggest thing you learned under him that you apply to your program here at Tulsa?
A lot of the organization and how we go about our recruiting process is something that we carried over. Coach Graham is really, really great at selling the program and involving the community. That has been a part that I have tried to continue to emulate.
Tulsa’s offense has been very difficult to stop under both Todd Graham and yourself. What do you feel has made it so difficult to stop for opposing defenses?
I think that the best thing that we have done offensively is just be multifaceted. We have a lot of different ways to get the ball to our playmakers and then understanding how to create matchups. That is something that we began to learn with Gus Malzahn six years ago. Then Chad Morris contributed to that as well and we have had a good run of offensive coaches.
How would you briefly describe your coaching philosophy for all three phases of the game?
My coaching philosophy is believing in chemistry, understanding that we can do so much more together than we can by ourselves. With that it is a big deal for me to build an environment where young men commit to coach themselves and to be coached. We talk about all the time what we call a covenant commitment, choosing to be part of something bigger than the team. I think when you do that, greatness has a chance to sneak up on you.
When you took over at Tulsa as Head Coach, you hired many new coaches. With so many first year coaches on the staff, what was the biggest challenge you guys collectively faced?
I think the biggest challenge was us learning to coach together. I had a good balance of experienced coaches and young coaches. The toughest thing for a new staff is how you fit together. I was just talking about the team and chemistry. You cannot build chemistry with your team until you have built it with your staff, so it is really important that we build that team chemistry, that camaraderie amongst ourselves and that we really like working together. We will challenge each other and expect the best from each other. When you do that the comfort will come as times goes on; not real comfortable our first year, but the chemistry was really good.
In your first year at Tulsa your schedule was very trying at first, facing three top ten teams within the first four weeks. How did this feel for you and your program?
We felt that it was a tremendous challenge. Opportunity is tied into challenges. To get to where we want to be as a football program we have to play top ten teams and we cannot back down from that. I was excited that we responded well to the challenge, we just did not overcome. For us to get to that level where we can be on a national stage, we need to get to that level. Two years ago we were fortunate enough to beat Notre Dame up in South Bend, but this past year we had the opportunity with those three teams in the top ten but unfortunately we didn’t take advantage.
Do you feel that these early season tests helped your program when you entered Conference USA play?
There is no question. I think the key is getting better from those. It is a little bit of a struggle, like last year when we had some many tough games early, because it is hard to build confidence and traction in the season. But once you survive that, if you get a little bit of traction going, I think we saw the middle part of the season really take off for us because we had been challenged and we weren’t going to see anyone any better than those teams that we played. I think we learned from it.
Tulsa had a special season under you in your first season, but lost a close game in the Armed Forces Bowl. Is there anything that you think could have changed the outcome or the score?
Well just the disappointment of being so close and not finishing as well as we should have. But you have to give BYU a lot of credit for making the drive to win the game. But within that it is easy for us to identify where we missed a tackle, interception, or missed a play. Any of those things we feel we could have, and should have, finished off that game. Those are hard losses, when you’re so close, because you can always point to a multitude of situations that happened and if any one of those could have turned it around we most likely would have won.
What is the biggest lesson you learned from your first season as a college Head Coach?
I think the biggest lesson is to not let your highs get too high and your lows get too low. I think as long as we, the leaders of the team, the coaching staff, stay focused and keep our heads about us, I think our players will as well. It is really important that we model that confidence, calmness, and poise. If we do that I think our players will do that as well.
What have been you and your coaching staff’s top priority for the off-season?
Coming out of spring ball it was really important that we developed our physical toughness. We really worked hard on defending the running game and being able to run the ball in short yardage situations. There is a physical toughness that every great team has and we wanted to improve that. We also had to identify a quarterback and we have been able to find that. We were replacing a three year starter. We also had a glaring spot at middle linebacker where we lost a top 5 tackler in the nation. We found a couple of those guys. Those have been our priorities for our own team. And then recruiting is always the key to building a program.
After evaluating yourself as a coach last season, what is the one thing that you are trying to improve upon this year?
I think I have to not make assumptions. You have to do the little things right. You can never be too organized; you can never plan too much ahead. Those are things I know I have to do a better job. Then simply working on the fundamentals as a football coach, watching more film, preparing better, all of those things are things that I can continue to improve.