It is little surprise that the University of Tulsa football team is 9-3, on the verge of a national ranking and playing in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Friday.
That the Golden Hurricane’s head coach, Todd Graham, is still with them at this point is, however, quite remarkable.
History tells us that the 46-year-old Graham should be saying "aloha" — as in good-bye — to Tulsa about now. Tradition suggests that he should be doing it from a podium at Pittsburgh or some other Bowl Championship Series member school.
As much as the folks at TU like to be known as the Golden Hurricane, in coaching circles the place has long been known as Steppingstone U. It is a launching pad for upwardly mobile coaches, a trampoline to bigger bucks.
Four of the five head coaches before Graham who won seven or more games in a season eventually found their way to greener pastures. Average stay at TU was less than five seasons.
Tiny Tulsa was a springboard to Louisville for Steve Kragthorpe, Wisconsin for Don Morton, Arizona State and Ohio State for John Cooper and Texas Christian for F.A. Dry. Only Dave Rader, one of TU’s own, stuck around to be a fixture at the Rib Crib.
It is a situation hardly confined to football at the school, either. At one time — a brief moment, usually — Nolan Richardson, Tubby Smith, Steve Robinson, Bill Self and Buzz Peterson all were head basketball coaches at TU before moving on to Arkansas, Georgia (and Kentucky), Florida State, Illinois (and Kansas), and Tennessee, respectively, among other stops.
If you can win at Tulsa — which has the smallest Football Bowl Subdivision enrollment (3,084 undergraduates) and is hardly an owner of a big bankroll or eye-popping facilities — experience suggests you can win at a number of places.
So it was hardly unexpected when, in the wake of TU’s success this season — and recent years — that Graham’s name became linked with any number of openings. Not overlooked was that he had fled Rice after one season to come to Tulsa.
At 35-17 in four seasons at Tulsa, including a victory at Notre Dame this year, Graham merited a look. Leading the nation in total offense twice made for a good, long look.
At an annual salary of $769,264, according to USA Today, that puts him midrange in Conference USA, how could Graham afford not to think about it, if asked?
Minnesota and Pittsburgh have since filled their pukas, but not before Tulsa fans had some all-too-familiar fears of here we go again.
Through it all, Graham has said all the right things. He’s made a point of saying any consideration of him is a validation of TU’s success and how he is concentrating on the job at hand.
The University of Hawaii and its much-coveted No. 24 ranking might well have his full attention this week.
But for how much longer the Golden Hurricane keep him is anybody’s guess. And, as history reminds us, the odds are not in TU’s favor.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com.