As an environmental biology major who once had no aspirations of coaching, Bill Blankenship is a living testament to God’s creativity. But given the journey he’s taken, it seems somewhat divine that he has landed in his current position as the head football coach at the University of Tulsa.
Last January, when TU Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham set out to find the program’s next coach it seemed as if the past, present and future of Golden Hurricane football came together through Blankenship—an Oklahoma native, former TU starting quarterback and the program’s senior associate head coach at the time.
According to Cunningham, the decision to promote Blankenship, a one-time FCA area representative and the recipient of the 2008 Merv Johnson Integrity in College Coaching Award, was as much about the coach’s character as it was the traditional X’s and O’s.
“Bill is exactly the leader that can move us to even greater success,” Cunningham said. “His character, integrity and core values will provide outstanding leadership for our football team and the University of Tulsa.”
Not bad for a guy who graduated from Tulsa after a solid college football career with plans to get a job as a field biologist in the Oklahoma oil industry.
But God, it seems, called an audible.
Team Blankenship (L to R): Caleb with Logan, Kim, Adam, Angie, Bill, Lindsay with Gracie, and Josh with Barrett
The summer before Blankenship arrived on campus as a student at TU, he received a letter from a couple of his future Golden Hurricane teammates inviting him to attend the university’s FCA Huddle.
“I showed up to my first meeting and was amazed and encouraged at the same time,” Blankenship said. “I’d grown up in a Christian home and had a good understanding of how my faith should be lived out, but I’d always kept it compartmentalized.”
Blankenship walked into his first FCA meeting and saw two of the football team’s biggest linemen sitting at a table with their Bibles open. It was an “aha moment” for the freshman to see athletes digging into God’s Word on a Tuesday night, and it began a process in which Blankenship would himself learn how to use his platform as a football player in order to share his faith.
On the football field, Blankenship gained valuable experience and wisdom under the instruction of several Golden Hurricane coaches including F.A. Dry, Hall-of-Famer John Cooper and former Miami (Fla.) Head Coach Larry Coker. But it was through FCA Area Representative Steve Kunkle that Blankenship received discipleship.
“Bill was part of a tremendous core of guys at Tulsa who were not only great football players, but who also really loved Jesus,” Kunkle said. “Bill had a great heart for the Lord and wanted to count for God. I feel so privileged that I got to interact with him at a time of life when young men make lifetime decisions, and, over the years, I’ve been blessed to witness the influence Bill has had on those around him.”
After Blankenship’s introduction to FCA, he soon began to take on a larger leadership role in Tulsa’s Huddle, traveling with Kunkle to ministry events at other schools.
Meanwhile, two other areas of his life were beginning to take off. He started at quarterback for two seasons at Tulsa and also married his high school sweetheart, Angie—the girl he’d been chasing since seventh grade and had dated in high school. The two had parted ways after graduation when Blankenship departed for TU and Angie for Northeastern State, but they remained in contact for the first year, just not in a dating role. But their separation didn’t last long.
“I just couldn’t take it anymore, so I asked her to marry me,” he said with a laugh. “We got engaged after our freshman year and got married during what would have been her last year of school. I still had two seasons to play, which was neat because she got to experience some of that with me.”
As Blankenship’s stature around Tulsa grew, so did his witness. He found himself more involved at FCA events as time went on, sharing the breadth of his evolving testimony and what God had done in his life. It quickly became apparent to Blankenship that ministry, not the oil business, was in his post-college future.
For three years after graduation, Blankenship served on staff with FCA, traveling throughout northeast Oklahoma in a role that allowed him to stay involved in athletics while making an impact in the lives of the area’s athletes and coaches. But after learning the game of football from some of the region’s most celebrated high school and college coaches—including his father, Gerald—Blankenship found that his mind often returned to coaching. The only problem was that, now, the same mindset that once allowed him to excel as an athlete made him question his willingness to start over in a new industry.
“Most quarterbacks are naturally confident, and I was as well,” he said. “But even though I knew I’d been exposed to exceptional coaching and teaching, ego-wise I couldn’t see myself starting as a junior high football coach who might move up to junior varsity, then varsity, and then maybe be a head coach someday. I didn’t know if I wanted to pay the price.”
Turns out he didn’t have to. Across town, former TU linebacker Bob Bartz, a board member at Eastwood Christian School, found himself in need of a coach who could take over the school’s fledgling football program. Blankenship accepted the challenge, took over as coach, and led the Eastwood program for two seasons. Although his teams won just five games during that time, Blankenship knew he’d found his calling.
“It was an amazing thing,” he said. “I felt God’s purpose and plan for my life. Even though I wasn’t very good at it, I knew it was what I was made to do. God had allowed me to be around coaches who had taught X’s and O’s at a very high level, and He guided my path in such a way that my experiences with FCA had sharpened my leadership skills and allowed me to present myself and Christ to the people around me.”
Blankenship’s foray into coaching meant that he and his family would need to make several adjustments off the field and at home. After all, Angie had thought she was marrying a biologist.
“I really hadn’t intended to coach,” Blankenship said. “Through our whole engagement and the early parts of our marriage, that wasn’t the deal, so there were obviously some growing pains. I had to learn how to coach, and she had to learn how to be a coach’s wife.”
As Blankenship began making coaching transitions, both he and Angie gained valuable experience. From Eastwood, Blankenship moved to Sapulpa High School on the southwest side of Tulsa and then took the head coaching job at his alma mater, Spiro High School, 100-plus miles south. His teams in Spiro were successful, posting a 34-17 mark over four seasons, but more importantly, the move home allowed Angie to be mentored by Blankenship’s mother, Beatrice—a veteran coach’s wife with years of wisdom from her role behind the bench.
Blankenship (center) with FCA’s Chris Kaiser (left) and Todd Christensen (right)
“It was a great time for our whole family,” Blankenship said. “Our kids were young, and my mom got to spend a lot of time with Angie on what to expect and how to deal with everything that comes with coaching. Over time, Angie and I kind of figured out how this could become our ministry—that we could do this thing together.”
The Blankenships eventually moved again, this time to Edmond, Okla., where the coach served for two seasons at Edmond Memorial High School. After EMHS, Blankenship moved on to Tulsa’s Union High School where he built the Redskins program into a perennial state power. Under his guidance, Union appeared in the Oklahoma 6A state championships seven times in 14 years, winning titles in 2002, 2004 and 2005.
Blankenship’s first season at Union also coincided with new FCA Area Director Chris Kaiser’s first year on staff. The pair quickly formed a bond based on their shared status as former members of the Golden Hurricane and their common passion for ministry.
“I was a young FCA rookie, barely wet behind the ears, and Bill really helped me see the big picture and learn how FCA did things,” Kaiser said. “I knew right away that he was a man of great character—a guy who did it right and stood tall for what he believed in.”
In 2007, 28 years after graduating from the University of Tulsa, Blankenship left the high school coaching ranks for good, returning to his alma mater to coach the Golden Hurricane’s wide receivers.
His time as a position coach was brief. After four seasons of increased responsibilities—and an induction into the Oklahoma Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2009—Tulsa administrators tapped Blankenship to lead their program in 2011.
“This definitely feels like home,” said Blankenship, whose sons Josh and Caleb also played for the Golden Hurricane. “Tulsa is a place where I feel I’ve got roots, and it’s neat to be back at the university where I believe I truly became a man.
“I was discipled and trained here, and that gave me a heart for college-aged kids,” he continued. “I’m so thankful for the men here who helped shape me into who I am. That’s what makes it so special for me—to think that maybe I can give back to these youngsters in a similar way.”
Blankenship also relished the opportunity to hand-pick his coaching staff. To assist him this season, he chose a group of strong believers that includes a mix of holdovers from the Todd Graham era and a half-dozen new coaches, including his and Angie’s third son, Adam. Kaiser also serves as part of the team, pulling double-duty as both the Golden Hurricane’s sideline reporter and the team’s chaplain.
“God helped me hire an incredible staff,” Blankenship said. “I wanted men who were great husbands and fathers as well as great coaches. As we have fleshed out our purpose and mission statement here, it really comes down to helping boys become men, training and leading them to become husbands who don’t give up on their wives, dads who don’t give up on their kids, and givers who make a difference in the community.”
Angie, who was thrust into a whole new world as a wideeyed coach’s wife almost three decades ago, now fulfills the role of mentor to Tulsa’s “football wives.” According to her husband, she provides an incredible model for the women, helping them through the various stresses they face.
“I love the fact that Angie’s grown in this ministry as I have,” Blankenship said. “It’s a really neat way for both of us to be a part of it.”
“We talk all the time that we want to become three-dimensional athletes and coaches who excel mentally, physically and spiritually, and that’s where Christ can make the difference—not in winning or losing, but in being all we were created to be.”
As the head coach at Tulsa, Blankenship continues to support FCA, keeping the ministry as an integral part of the football program.
Earlier this year, he championed an FCA coaches’ breakfast before Tulsa’s spring football game, and he’s secured Kaiser to again lead the team’s chapel services, Bible studies and prayer times.
According to Kaiser, Blankenship’s involvement is key to the success not only of the football program but also the team’s spiritual development.
“For 20 years, FCA has been strong at Tulsa, and many of the previous coaches we’ve had have been strong FCA advocates,” Kaiser said. “That being said, Bill brings a new dynamic because of his tremendous knowledge of FCA and what we do. He knows camps, he knows what we’re trying to do in the schools, and he knows the ins and outs of the FCA ministry. It’s going to be fun for me to watch what God does with all this.”
Whether his stay in Tulsa lasts years or decades, Blankenship knows exactly what will make his tenure a success.
“We want to be a part of positively changing the culture here,” Blankenship said. “We talk all the time that we want to become three-dimensional athletes and coaches who excel mentally, physically and spiritually, and that’s where Christ can make the difference—not in winning or losing, but in being all we were created to be. You just can’t do that without Him.
“We want to build a covenant community that perpetuates virtue and victory,” he added. “If I can look back someday and see that that’s taken place, it will have been time well-spent.”
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Courtesy of Chris Kaiser; The University of Tulsa