ENID, Okla. —
Chuck Fairbanks isn’t mentioned with the B-B-B legends (Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer and Bob Stoops) when people discuss the history of University of Oklahoma football.
But Fairbanks, who died Tuesday after a long battle with brain cancer, made a significant impact during his six-year tenure (1967-72) as the Sooners’ head coach.
Switzer is recognized as perhaps the greatest recruiter in college football, particularly African-Americans.
But it was under Fairbanks that OU started aggressively recruiting African-Americans at every position, instead of just a handful.
Greg Pruitt, Roy Bell, Rod Shoate, Raymond Hamilton, Glenn King, Albert Chandler, Kenny Pope and Lucious Selmon were the players recruited by the Fairbanks regime who laid the ground work for the second Sooner dynasty.
His regime recruited the top players out of Texas in back-to-back years in quarterback Jack Mildren and running back Joe Wylie, half of the Wishbone backfield which revived OU football.
The Sooners won three national championships under Switzer with the Wishbone, the grandson of the Split T option offense that won three national championships under Wilkinson.
But while it was Switzer who suggested a move to the Wishbone three games into the 1970 season (after a 23-14 loss to Oregon State), it was Fairbanks who gave the OK. OU had been running the veer, which Fairbanks had learned at the University of Houston under Hall of Fame coach Bill Yeomans. Fairbanks consulted Biggie Munn, his coach at Michigan State. He had a sleepless night, but gave the OK.
People forget “Chuck Chuck” signs were across the state after OU went 6-4 in 1969 and Sooner fans were getting restless. Going to the Wishbone was a gamble, especially since it was to debut against defending national champion Texas, whose offensive coordinator Emery Bellard invented the offense.
The Sooners lost 41-9, but upset Colorado the next week. They played eventual national champion Nebraska to the wire before losing 28-21. Bear Bryant was impressed enough with what he saw of the ’bone in a 24-24 tie with OU in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl that he put it in the next season at Alabama.
The rest was history. OU went 11-1 in 1971 and 1972 and Fairbanks was off to the New England Patriots. The “Chuck Chuck” signs inspired Switzer to get the patent on “Bury Barry’’ when he became head coach.
Fairbanks’ tenure was full of what ifs. With some luck, he could have had three national champions.
In 1967, OU’s lone loss was to Texas, 9-7 in a game the Sooners outplayed the Longhorns. A couple of missed short field goals and a pass that went off the shoulder pads of OU receiver Joe Killingsworth in the end zone into the hands of a Texas defender would make the difference.
In 1971, OU lost to Nebraska 35-31 in the “Game of the Century.” On the Huskers’ winning touchdown drive, NU quarterback Jerry Tagge was able to elude Hamilton to complete a pass on a key third down play. Hamilton was hampered by a bad ankle. Many felt a healthy Hamilton would have sacked Tagge.
The next season, OU’s lone loss was to Colorado, 20-14 on a wet and slippery field.
Among the coaches on Fairbanks’ “family tree,” were the only two coaches to win both a national collegiate championship and a Super Bowl — Switzer and Jimmy Johnson. The 1971 staff included future head coaches such as Galen Hall (Florida), Jimmy Dickey (Kansas State), Larry Lacewell (Arkansas State), Jerry Pettibone (Northern Illinois and Oregon State) and Bill Michael (UTEP), not to mention former Texas Western and now UTEP head coach Warren Harper.
Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer.