HAPPY TO BE BACK: Bill Blankenship says he is happy to be back in greater Tulsa, where he played football at the University of Tulsa and coached at Union and TU. He is looking forward to leading the Owasso Rams football program. This photo was taken while he was coaching at TU.
Bill Blankenship is back in Tulsa after being away on a two-year journey.
The former coach of Union High School and the University of Tulsa returns to take over the same role at Owasso after being announced as the new head coach at a press conference on Jan. 6.
“This is my adopted home,” Blankenship says. “I certainly grew up in Spiro, but I spent most of my adult life in Tulsa and it really feels good to be back home around friends and family.”
Ram fans are hoping he can build Owasso into a 6AI power the same way he built Union.
Blankenship coached Union for 14 seasons, leading the program to seven appearances in the state finals, having won three of them. He stepped down from the Redskins after they won their third state title of his tenure in 2005.
Having played collegiately at TU in the 1970s, he became an assistant for his alma mater in 2007 under Todd Graham, then became head coach in 2011. The following year, he led TU to its first 11-win season in school history, a Conference USA Championship and a win in the Liberty Bowl. However, after struggling the next two years, he and the Golden Hurricane parted ways.
He would move on to be an assistant at Memphis, where a former pupil, Justin Fuente was serving as head coach.
The new Owasso coach says it was an incredible opportunity at just the right time.
“When I went to Memphis to be under Justin’s leadership and to see what he had done, I really felt like I got that other burst again of energy and new ideas,” Blankenship says. “It’s not like there are right ways and wrong ways. I think you keep looking for different ways that might be better to communicate the same idea, and that’s what I came away with. I thought Justin’s leadership ability and way of doing things was tremendous.”
Blankenship coached Fuente early in his Union tenure and is thrilled with the success he is having at Virginia Tech.
After his one-year stint in Memphis, Blankenship returned two hours east of Tulsa by becoming the head coach at Fayetteville (Ark.) High School, which had won the Class 7A state title the year before. He would lead that program to repeat as Arkansas state champions.
“The people really embraced us; it is a great place to live, a great community and wonderful kids to get to coach,” Blankenship says. “They have a lot of confidence, and we kept moving things in the right direction. They really had a great run to the championship and a finish with a blowout win in the finals. It ended with them getting back-to-back titles, which is hard to do. It is difficult to win one, but to go win another one with a target on you is a very difficult thing. I was very proud of them. I thought they sustained and it was a very surreal experience.”
Eventually, Blankenship was offered by Owasso athletic director Zach Duffield to take over the Rams. With most of his family, including eight grandchildren, in the area, he could not resist the chance.
He said it is too early for him to evaluate the talent he inherits. But he has been in the weight room with them for five days and likes what he sees.
“I think there is a good work ethic,” Blankenship says. “I think there is what looks to be a good talent level.”
But there’s a lot of work to do, he says, to get the program to a place where it’s competing for state championships.
“It’s a matter of knowing what we’re working towards,” Blankenship says. “You can’t get to the finish line without first getting to the first marker. We’ve got to take this thing and begin to get better on a regular basis. We’ve got to improve the program from the bottom up, from the youth program through the junior high to the high school. It’s not broken; that’s the great thing. This is really a great foundation that has been laid, and that’s why it is a great time to be here.”
Owasso finished 3-7 in 2016.
“It’s not something where the leadership was bad or the kids were bad,” Blankenship says. “I think they’ve had some unfortunate circumstances last year with a bunch of injuries.
“I think we’re primed and ready to be able to take steps and chase those guys (Jenks and Union). We’re not going to get there immediately, but you build a program from the inside-out, from the bottom-up, and if you do it well enough, it will sustain itself,” Blankenship says.