As mentioned in Part One of this post, I had the opportunity to speak with coaches from the West Division of Conference USA this morning at the conference’s media days in Irving, Texas.
Here are my takeaways after conversations with coaches from Tulsa, Tulane and the University of Houston.
Tulsa Hurricanes- Head Coach Bill Blankenship
With the loss of quarterback G.J. Kinne, one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in Conference USA last fall, Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship is realistic about what it means for his team. In our conversation, Blankenship noted that he believes in the depth he now has at the position and the transition to either Kalen Henderson or Cody Green going forward.
Blankenship was not specific about which of this pair had established themselves as the leader going into fall practice.
With questions asked from others at the table, Coach Blankenship elaborated at length about the effect adding UNT and UTSA will have on the conference. Blankenship noted that the conference spent a great deal of time evaluating regional programs which they believed would help with the overall presence regionally, and UNT and UTSA were two of the most solid “fits” available. He compared the process for determining this fit being similar to the process he is accustomed to in finding the right fit in his players.
Tulane Green Wave- Head Coach Curtis Johnson
Probably my best one-on-one conversation of the morning was with Tulane Green Wave head coach Curtis Johnson. Coach Johnson is in his first year on campus and has a substantial challenge ahead of him after a 2-11 finish in 2011, but he seems to be taking it in stride.
Above all else, Coach Johnson emphasized the need to return to smart football for Tulane. His emphasis will be on recruiting players who have these smarts and are more able to react quickly to changing situations than he feel previous players had been able to do.
Coach Johnson noted that with the addition of new schools in the south over the next few years, including Charlotte and Louisiana Tech, the South could easily open up as new recruiting territory. For Tulane, however, it’s important that the program return to respectability to again become a viable option for recruits in Louisiana who have been lost to in-state and out-of-state rivals alike.
Listening to Tulane players sitting at the table speaking with other members of the media, it’s obvious there is a buy-in among the roster in Coach Johnson and what he brings to the table. One player mentioned he would “run through a wall” if asked to do so by Coach Johnson, and that he has earned the respect of the players already during his short time on campus.
After my talk with Coach Johnson, it’s obvious he has been brought to campus to inject new energy to a Tulane program that is looking to turn things around as soon as possible.
I wasn’t able to speak with Houston Cougars head coach Tony Levine due to his time being taken by radio outlets that were broadcasting remotely from the site, but my impression is that Case Keenum was the focus of attention throughout the morning from what I overheard.
The West Division will set the tone this year in Conference USA, and it’s easy to say that it’s available for the taking.
Kris Hughes is the College Football Network Manager for Rant Sports and a member of the Football Writers Association of America.
Kris is also the host of Rant Sports Radio on the Blog Talk Radio Network Wednesday evenings at 8 Central Time.