Tulsa looks to replace Todd Graham

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Todd Graham led Tulsa's football program to one of the most successful stretches in school history and a finish in the Top 25 this season for the first time since 1991.

Now, athletic director Bubba Cunningham must find the right person to build upon that success after Graham departed to become the new coach at Pittsburgh.

Graham was 36-17 in four seasons in charge of the Golden Hurricane, including a school-record 11 wins two seasons ago. This year, Tulsa won its final seven games to finish at 10-3 and earn the No. 24 spot in the final Associated Press poll.

"We're a far better place than we were four years ago when he arrived," Cunningham said after Graham announced his departure late Monday.

Cunningham needed only three days to fill the Golden Hurricane's coaching vacancy when he hired Graham four years ago to replace Steve Kragthorpe. He joked that he didn't think it would take even that long to replace Graham, but said in all seriousness that the search shouldn't take long.

"We do things rather quickly, and I would think that that's probably going to be the same case this time," Cunningham said.

Graham had been the defensive coordinator under Kragthorpe, then spent one season as Rice's head coach before returning to Tulsa when his former boss left. This time, Graham is taking many of his top assistants with him.

Graham announced Tuesday that co-defensive coordinators Paul Randolph and Keith Patterson, along with passing game coordinator Mike Norvell, would all be on his staff at Pittsburgh. Chad Morris, the first-year offensive coordinator who helped Tulsa reclaim its spot among the nation's top offenses, has left for a similar job at Clemson although he conceivably could be brought back if Cunningham desired the same kind of continuity as in his last hire.

Cunningham talked this time about an "institutional continuity" that he's trying to create at Tulsa that doesn't necessarily revolve around individual coaches.

"What we're looking for is the best fit right now. That's probably the simplest way for me to sum it up," Cunningham said. "There probably isn't a whole list of criteria I could give you that would give you a better picture of what that looks like, but hopefully we'll identify those characteristics and make that selection."

Kragthorpe could even be in the mix. He has returned to the Tulsa area after a failed stint at Louisville. He initially got the program turned around, taking a team that had back-to-back one-win seasons and going 29-22 in four years.

"Steve did a terrific job. I'm not going to obviously speculate on any candidates or any talk about that," Cunningham said. "I think there's a lot of interest in the job. We've been very successful."

Graham's .679 winning percentage is the second-best among coaches in charge of Tulsa for at least 50 games. Only Henry Frnka, who guided the program to an Orange Bowl win and two Sugar Bowl appearances, had a better mark.

Cunningham said he had anticipated Graham's departure and quickly retained a search firm. He and university president Steadman Upham will choose the next coach.

"Thirty-six wins in four years, that's a pretty high bar to set, but we think we can exceed it," Cunningham said. "That's what the university's been built on -- trying to get better all the time. We'll continue to do it."

The success in recent years has spurred the creation of a new locker room complex with coaches offices and a handful of suites at the north end of the football stadium. A new press box also was built, with another set of luxury suites, during a flurry of construction on campus.

"The profile of the university, the profile of the football program, the campus facilities themselves, I think there's a lot of momentum right now for the university," Cunningham said, "and we need to capitalize on that with the football program."