Todd Graham Looks Ahead to New Team, Stadium
By DAVID JONES
CHAPMAN STADIUM: The University of Tulsa football stadium, originally called Skelly Field, will feature luxury suites, new bathrooms, a new scoreboard and other amenities that should by appealing to TU fans. It is expected to be ready for the 2008 football season.
No one is more excited about the coming improvements to Skelly Stadium than incoming coach Todd Graham. Graham is not really a newcomer to Tulsa football, having served as defensive coordinator under previous coach Steve Kragthorpe. Many of his “new” charges are players he recruited before leaving for a year to be head coach at Rice University.
Both he and Kragthorpe faced daunting challenges when they took over the University of Tulsa program four years ago. Not only did they have a crumbling stadium, they had a crumbling team. The Golden Hurricane had won just two games in two years and the future looked dreadful, yet Kragthorpe and Graham led the Tulsa team to a bowl game their first year, just as Graham was to end a 45-year bowl drought his one year at Rice.
Now Graham has a bowl-tested team to coach (three bowls in the last four years) and a wealth of talent on the team. He has the promise of an ancient playing field that will gleam like new when the 2008 season kicks off.
The revamped stadium will now be called H.A. Chapman Stadium at Skelly Field. In the new stadium, seating will be reduced to approximately 31,000 seats butwill have a new press box and 22 luxury suites added. Graham sees the smaller stadium (it used to top at an official 40,000-plus seats with one crowd of 48,000 crammed in for a Tulsa-Oklahoma game) as a positive.
“The shrinkage will help,” he says. “The atmosphere of the game will be completely different. We should be able to sell out every week. If it turns out we have a greater demand, the stadium can be expanded.”
Graham is enormously excited to be able to honor Tulsa’s gridiron tradition. The $9 million Case Athletic Complex at the north end, for example, will be a museum of Tulsa football past and present.
“Inside we will have one wall that will contain pictures of every Tulsa team. We’ll have a coach’s wall and an All-American wall and an All-Conference wall and an Academic All-American Wall. Anyone who at any time ever played football for TU will be able to find himself represented in the Case complex.
There will also be an area honoring former TU players who were inducted into the National Football League Hall of Fame. “People don’t realize,” says Graham, “that there are more Tulsa alums there than there are from Oklahoma.”
The new facilities will have three benefits: “The first will be getting the interest of players considering coming to Tulsa. We want to be a top-25 team and we are winning some recruiting battles with the Big 12 and the Southeast Conference. It has already been helpful in recruiting. We have two Junior Days when we ask high school juniors to come to visit the school. We usually got around 50-60 a day. This year we’ve gotten 172 and 189.
“Second, the existing players will know the heritage of the team and what they’re representing.
“Third, it honors our alumni in a very special way. There’s something sacred when you strap that helmet on.”
Graham is enormously pleased to be back at Tulsa. He took the Rice job, he said, because head coaching jobs are few and hard to get and he didn’t know how long Kragthorpe was going to stay at Tulsa.
“When I got the call from TU my wife Penni asked, ‘what did they say?’ and I said they offered me the job. ‘What did you say?’ Penni asked. I said I told them I’d think about it. She told me ‘you call them right back and tell them you’ll take the job’.
“Tulsa has shown it’s willing to spend the resources to build a first-rate program. I’ve been able to put together one of the finest coaching staffs in the nation. We have coaches with recruiting roots in Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas.
“I’ve been given a six-year contract which will give stability to the program.”
Graham says he knows TU fans have long looked at the football coach’s job as one a man does while he lobbies for a more prestigious and better paying position. Those times, Graham says, are changing.
“Tulsa has never been as good a job as it’s going to be now. With the $27 million in planned stadium improvements, the Jumbotron scoreboard, the new Case complex, this is now a place of destination for coaches.”