Kragthorpe has Tulsa on rise

Young coach's reputation also soars after 4 seasons at the helm

Published: Friday, Sept. 8 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

PROVO — A Hurricane's a-comin' to LaVell Edwards Stadium.

When the Tulsa Golden Hurricane invades Provo on Saturday (2 p.m.), it will be led by coach Steve Kragthorpe, who personally witnessed the rise of BYU football as a kid, and, some 30 years later, has resurrected Tulsa football.

Kragthorpe has put the "Golden" back in the Golden Hurricane.

Consider this: He took over a program that was coming off of 11 consecutive losing seasons, and a 2-21 mark in the previous two, and turned in a winning record in his first season, in 2003.

In four seasons, he's posted a modest 22-17 record, but Tulsa enjoyed a breakout season a year ago, as the Hurricane went 9-4, won the Conference USA title and defeated Fresno State in the Liberty Bowl. Three of its wins were by seven points or less.

The Golden Hurricane has won five straight and eight of its last nine, dating back to last season, and people are noticing. Sports Illustrated recently listed Kragthorpe, 41, as one of three coaches on the rise.

After opening the 2006 season last week with a 45-7 romp over Division I-AA Stephen F. Austin, Tulsa will try to gain some added national respect with a victory at BYU. A win could have long-term implications, though Kragthorpe downplays such talk.

"Every game has an implication on bowls. We're taking each game one at a time," Kragthorpe said. "No game is more important than any other and no game is less important than any other."

No doubt that this game will be a nostalgic one for Kragthorpe, the son of former BYU offensive line coach Dave Kragthorpe. Steve Kragthorpe lived in Provo from 1970-79, hanging around the BYU football team during some memorable seasons. He watched the Cougars ascend from mediocrity to great heights during his 10 years at BYU.

Kragthorpe remembers being locked in lockers and thrown in whirlpools by Cougar players like Jim McMahon, Marc Wilson, Andy Reid and Brian Billick. McMahon and Wilson, of course, were legendary BYU quarterbacks and went on to NFL success while Reid and Billick are currently NFL head coaches.

"In a lot of respects," Kragthorpe said of Saturday's game, "yes, it will be like going home."

Kragthorpe counts former BYU coach LaVell Edwards as a mentor and has patterned much of what he's done in his program after what Edwards did at BYU. Because he's watched so many games from inside Edwards Stadium, he knows what his players are facing.

"Most of the guys on our team, the guys that are starters or front-line players, have been in those types of environments before," he said. "BYU is a tough place to play. It's loud and they have a great crowd that's right up on top of you," he said. "It's a great place to play. It's a scenic place to play with the mountains right in the background. It's a great grass field. They've got rabid fans."

As if that connection to BYU wasn't enough, it gets even better. Kragthorpe and BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall were graduate assistant coaches together in 1989 at Oregon State, where Dave Kragthorpe was the head coach. Mendenhall played for Dave Kragthorpe for two years at OSU. Steve Kragthorpe and Mendenhall also coached together for two years at Northern Arizona. Mendenhall regards Kragthorpe as one of his best friends in the coaching business.

"I consider him one of the best head coaches that I've seen at this point at a relatively earlier stage in his career," Mendenhall said of Kragthorpe.

What's more, Tulsa's offensive coordinator, Charlie Stubbs, began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at BYU in 1983-84 before moving on to Oregon State from 1985-1990. After he was hired as head coach in 2004, Mendenhall considered Stubbs for the quarterbacks coaching job at BYU.

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