ENID, Okla. —
Barry Switzer once said Bud Wilkinson built the monster that’s known as Oklahoma football — he just fed it.
That should be remembered today when Bob Stoops is expected to pass Wilkinson as the third winningest coach in Sooner history.
Their records are almost identical — Wilkinson at 145-29-4 (.826) and Stoops at 145-36 (.801), but that’s where similarities end.
There is only one Bud Wilkinson, just as there’s only one Bob Stoops. Different strokes for different folks in different eras. It’s best not to compare.
Wilkinson’s record was built up in the days of one-platoon football and an era where African-American players were as rare as a liberal at a Tea Party rally.
When he came to OU as an assistant in 1946, segregation was law in Oklahoma. He wouldn’t have his first player of color until Prentice Gautt in 1957, and he was far ahead of the curve in that.
Wilkinson won with the Split T, the option and the halfback pass. Check the record books and you’ll find his quarterbacks usually threw as many passes in a season as Stoops’ would in a game.
Wilkinson’s quarterbacks would call their own plays. Some 93 percent of his players would earn degrees during a time when going into business would be more profitable than an NFL career. Only one of his players (Tommy McDonald) would be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Oklahoma 5-2 defense Wilkinson was known for is still in vogue.
Wilkinson was the first college coach to have his own television program. He was made for television. He sounded more like an English professor than a football coach. He has been credited for changing the images of coaches in the 1950s.
His TV show was must-watch television. Almost 50 yeas after he coached his last game at OU, people still can remember how he moved his little men to demonstrate a play.
He was the rare man that could say he served both John F. Kennedy (head of the president’s council on physical fitness) and Richard Nixon (as an adviser).
Some speculate today if Wilkinson had beaten Fred Harris in the 1964 U.S. Senate race, Wilkinson — and not Spiro Agnew — might have been football fanatic Nixon’s choice as vice President in 1968.
Wilkinson could have been president instead of former Michigan All-American Gerald Ford. Wilkinson’s biggest mistake was timing.
Wilkinson changed parties in February of 1964 to run as a Republican. Harris would beat Wilkinson on the coat tails of Texan Lyndon Johnson, the last Democrat presidential candidate to carry Oklahoma.
College football was not the business it is today. The Big 7 Conference once had a rule where a team couldn’t go to a bowl two years in a row. There were TV restrictions. Fans could buy seats in the south end zone for a dollar. The 1957 Notre Dame game was the lone sellout. There usually were only four to six assistant coaches. Wilkinson doubled as the athletic director.
Just how dominate were Wilkinson’s teams in the late 1940s and 1950s?
Just look at his first 12 years with the Sooners when OU had both a 31-game and 47-game winning streak and never lost a conference game.
Wilkinson’s record at that time was 114-10-3 with three national championships. His last five teams went 7-3, 3-6-1, 5-5, 8-3 and 8-2. He later would say jet travel changed recruiting and he didn’t keep up. He might have lost some zest for coaching.
Yet, many including Texas coach Darrell Royal, a former Wilkinson player, said Wilkinson did his finest coaching job in 1961 when the Sooners won their last five games after starting the season 0-5. Wilkinson shocked his TV audience when he predicted the Sooners would win the last five games of the season.
Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer