Tramel: Tulsa's Philip Montgomery has a tough job guiding Golden Hurricane through pandemic, school leadership turnover
STILLWATER — Tulsa football coach Philip Montgomery has a boss as the Golden Hurricane’s 2020 season begins. Don’t laugh. That wouldn’t have been the case a week ago, when OSU was scheduled to host TU at Boone Pickens Stadium.
Tulsa announced Friday that alumnus and former athletic director Rick Dickson will be TU’s interim AD, replacing Derrick Gragg, who is joining the NCAA. Gragg’s last official day on the job was Thursday, but he’s been mostly out of the loop while making the transition to Indianapolis.
Tulsa also has an interim university president. Sounds like an ideal situation for most football coaches, but these are strange times. Nothing is on cruise control during a pandemic.
Montgomery in recent weeks had to deal with suspension of practice because of the coronavirus, which in turn caused the OSU-Tulsa opener to be delayed by a week.
“You have to embrace, you have to adapt,” Montgomery said. “You know change is going to happen. We try to focus on the things we can control.”
It must be comforting, though, to know that an experienced hand like Dickson is coming aboard. Dickson left TU in 1994 to be Washington State’s athletic director. Dickson also was Tulane’s AD and helped the Green Wave stabilize, including with a new stadium.
Tulsa has the stadium — Chapman Stadium is a glittering facility — but also has all the financial challenges that go with trying to play Division I-A football even when COVID-19 isn’t wreaking havoc on American society.
"Our love for this university and the City of Tulsa runs deep," Dickson said in a TU release. “I look forward to working with everyone in the department re-energizing the commitment to achieve our goals, on the athletic field and in the classroom, and the community."
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Tulsa’s football goals in 2020 first are to play, and then to win. Montgomery is coming off three straight losing seasons — 2-10, 3-9, 4-8 — after a breakout 2016 season in which the Hurricane went 10-3 and Montgomery would have been a hot coaching prospect if not for his ties to Art Briles.
The Baylor coach was fired in spring 2016 after the football program was alleged to have covered up a sexual-assault scandal involving players. Montgomery spent 16 years with Briles, at Stephenville High School in Texas, the University of Houston and Baylor.
So Montgomery remained at Tulsa, and the Golden Hurricane has slid since, with a 5-19 record in the American Conference.
An upset of the Cowboys would go a long way to igniting the TU program, but Tulsa, which once played toe-to-toe with OSU, hasn’t been particularly competitive in the seven games since 1998.
Montgomery grew up the son of a Church of Christ pastor, moving to churches all over Texas and New Mexico. He finished high school in Eastland, Texas, as a star quarterback, and went on to Tarleton State in Stephenville. Montgomery hooked up with Briles and soon became known as one of the branches of Briles’ impressive offensive tree. Veteran Tulsa quarterback Zach Smith, a Baylor transfer, gives TU a puncher’s chance against most teams.
Montgomery is in his sixth Tulsa season. Only four coaches — Dave Rader (1988-99), John Cooper (1977-84), Glenn Dobbs (1961-68) and Buddy Brothers (1946-52) have led the Hurricane longer.
And while the 48-year-old Montgomery this week stopped short of referring to himself as an Okie, he did say he’s been looking at Oklahoma land as a possible retirement spot.
“Myself and my family, we feel really blessed to be here the amount of time that we have,” Montgomery said. “There’s been some tough times in there. But we feel blessed to be here. Tulsa has become our home.”
It’s a tough job. Tulsa’s all-time leader in coaching victories is Cooper, who went 56-32. Few schools in America have a coaching leader with such a paltry number.
The successful Tulsa coaches move on. Cooper to Arizona State. Henry Frnka to Tulane. Steve Kragthorpe to Louisville. Todd Graham to Pittsburgh. Don Morton to Wisconsin.
The unsuccessful are fired.
But these are different times. Resources are scarce, and schools can’t indiscriminately pay off contracts. Besides, Montgomery’s boss is interim and has been on the job for a day.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at oklahoman.com/berrytramel.