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(All information as of July 1, 2006)
COACH AND PROGRAM
When Tulsa opened its season picked to finish fourth or fifth in the new Conference USA West Division but instead finished with a division title, a conference championship and a Liberty Bowl victory, it would have been easy for the Golden Hurricane to spend the next few months celebrating by sitting back and enjoying the sweet taste of success.
Instead, the party lasted less than 24 hours.
"We won the Liberty Bowl, got on a bus, drove to the airport, the next day we're in a 1 o'clock staff meeting," co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. "Two hours later we're on an airplane going to recruit."
The same was true for the players, who spent the offseason and the spring working and practicing as if they still had a lot to prove to the rest of C-USA.
"I do believe it's harder to stay on top of the mountain than it is to get there because you can sneak up to the top of the mountain, but once you're at the summit, people recognize who you are," head coach Steve Kragthorpe said. "I think what's happening with our program right now is that our guys have a more thorough understanding of what it takes to be successful and the fine line between victory and success."
The older players have learned that lesson through time and experience. In 2003, Kragthorpe inherited a program trying to dig its way out from under two consecutive one-win seasons, but the Golden Hurricane still finished 8-4 and played in the Humanitarian Bowl. In 2004, Tulsa finished 4-8 with two overtime losses, one in triple overtime, as well as two other losses by a combined five points.
Last year, the Golden Hurricane finished 9-4 with three wins by seven, seven and six points and three closes losses to bowl-bound teams, Oklahoma, UTEP and Houston.
"If you look at the complexion of those three seasons, they weren't dramatically different," Kragthorpe said. "The results were dramatically different in terms of wins and losses, but there were many, many games in 2004 where we actually played better than games in 2003 and 2005. We just lost some of those games in 2004, two in overtime, one in triple overtime.
"After all that, I think our guys have a better idea of the fine line between victory and defeat, and now that they've tasted the fruits of victory, they like the taste and they want to continue to win."
To make that happen, the Tulsa coaches and players must start by giving this year's lofty preseason predictions the same respect and attention they gave last year's lowly predictions.