By D. FORREST CAMERON
Editor and Publisher
HURRICANE REUNION: Many of David Rader’s Tulsa players were present when he was the featured speaker during a recent Fellowship of Christian Athletes luncheon at the Radisson Hotel in Tulsa in August. From left are Josh Blankenship, Travis Lang, Kirk Friedrich, J. P. Russell, Rader, Pat Harper, Chris Kaiser, John Chargois and Mike Gaines.
TREY STEWART for GTR Newspapers
David Rader has been through what some may compare to a modern day football version of the trials and tribulations of those found in the Book of Job.
His life journey has included football playing and coaching successes as well as disappointments, and a stunning end to a short-lived career at what was one of the promising companies in the nation.
The Tulsan graduated from Will Rogers High School in 1975 as a heralded quarterback signee for the University of Tulsa. He was a standout at TU, where he started for two years and led his team to big wins over teams such as Virginia Tech and Cincinnati.
Rader signed as a 1979 11th-round draft pick with the San Diego Chargers. He was cut from the team, but was picked up by the New York Giants, where he played most of the 1979 season under Head Coach Ray Perkins. Another rookie who signed in 1979 with the Giants was Phil Sims, who became a famous NFL star. Rader was cut from the Giants during pre-season of 1980. His hopes for playing professional football stayed alive through 1981, when he was cut by the New England Patriots.
Rader’s life changed in 1983. Legendary Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant resigned from Alabama after the 1982 season, and the Crimson Tide named Perkins the successor. Perkins hired Rader to be his receivers coach, where he stayed for three years. Rader remembers, “We did very well. We beat arch-rival Auburn twice.” The team also went to two bowls during that time.
Rader’s career was gaining momentum, and in 1986 he accepted the position of offensive coordinator at Mississippi State under then-Head Coach Rocky Felker.
In 1987, Rader’s alma mater named George Henshaw as the head coach. Henshaw, who had been Alabama’s offensive coordinator, asked Rader to return to Tulsa to become the assistant head coach and quarterback coach, a position the young man readily accepted.
After only one season, Henshaw left Tulsa to join the Denver Broncos coaching staff. Henshaw was Tulsa’s third football coach in the past four years, and university officials wanted someone with loyalty who could offer longevity. They turned to Rader, who would become the youngest head football coach in the nation at 31.
By his second season, Rader had Tulsa in the Independence Bowl, where the Hurricane played Oregon. Two years later, his team won the Freedom Bowl in Anaheim, Calif., over San Diego State and All-American running back Marshall Faulk. Tulsa featured several players who would go on to play in the NFL, including T.J. Rubley, Gus Frerotte, Tracy Scroggins, Jerry Ostroski, Barry Minter, Fallon Waycasey and Chris Penn.
Tulsa football would go into a decade-long decline after the 1991 Freedom Bowl season. At that time, Rader explains that 56 percent of the players majored in Health, Physical Education and Recreation. University officials closed the curriculum, which made it difficult to recruit competitive football players. During that time, Skelly Stadium was getting older and the team was playing as an independent. There was no league championship and no bowl alliances until 1996, when the school joined the Western Athletic Conference.
Rader says, “In my last years, university officials made it clear that we needed to win more. The program or the coach had to change. The most economical decision was to name a new coach.” Rader is proud to point out that his players graduated at a rate higher than non-football students.
Keith Burns was named the succeeding coach in 2000, and he went 7-28 over the next three seasons.
Rader spent the next three years in Tulsa working for Pinnacle Business Systems, an information technology company. Though he enjoyed the work, football was still on his mind.
In May 2003, Mike Shula, who had played quarterback at Alabama when Rader was an assistant coach, was hired as the Crimson Tide head coach. Shula immediately asked Rader to return to be the quarterback coach and offensive coordinator.
The Alabama program was in turmoil at that time. In the previous year, the program had been hammered by NCAA sanctions, lost Dennis Franchione to Texas A&M and subsequently fired Mike Price due to his off-field actions. The Alabama program was nearly terminated by the NCAA and was playing with a limited number of players.
After four seasons, in 2006 Shula and his staff were fired, despite playing their final game in the Independence Bowl. Again Rader was looking for a job. (Shula is now the quarterback coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars.)
Rader stayed in Tuscaloosa until June 2007, when he was offered a position in one of the nation’s most impressive young companies, SemGroup. After that company’s stunning troubles, Rader wryly comments, “It took me 13 months to bring that company down.”
Rader is a popular person, certainly well liked and respected by most everybody that has known him. A reason for this is his positive attitude that is based in faith. He says, “As a believer, you profess God is in control. It is a blessing when a job is given, though it can be taken away. It is maturity in faith to follow Christ and abide in Him from when things are fine to when there are bumps in the road. In your mind you are a believer first and a coach or whatever second.”
Rader is philosophical about what has transpired in his career, which still has a long way to go. “Imagine being in Tulsa all these years. We have had the oil crash of the 1980s, the communications crash of the 1990s, and now today’s economic situation. As much as I didn’t like being dismissed, if being fired as a head coach is the worst thing in life, it’s going to be a pretty good life. I’m looking forward to pressing on.”
Today Rader, an electrical engineering graduate, is employed by Linde Process Plants, an international company headquartered in Germany that builds huge gas and crude oil processing plants. He also stays close to football, as he appears on a college preview show Friday nights at 9:30 on Fox 23 in Tulsa and also broadcasts on the Sports Animal radio show before each TU home football game. He and his wife Janet are happy to be situated in Tulsa.
Rader continues to follow Tulsa football, as he is a season ticket holder and stays close to the program. TU assistant coach Bill Blankenship was a teammate at Tulsa, and Rader says, “Coach Todd Graham has been great. He has an open door for me as well as other TU graduates. He is very kind and has gone beyond making me feel welcome.”