NORMAN, Okla. — John Blake, Oklahoma's first and only Black head football coach in program history, has died. He was 59.
Blake played at OU from 1979-82 and served as the team's head coach from 1996-98. He also was a student assistant on coach Barry Switzer's staff in 1985, the same year OU won its sixth national championship in football.
"We are stunned and saddened by the news of coach Blake's passing," OU athletics director Joe Castiglione said in a statement. "He was never hesitant in displaying love for his family, his players or how much he valued the honor of being a Sooner. His legacy as OU's first Black head coach in any sport is incredibly meaningful and will live on forever. We offer our heartfelt thoughts and our prayers to his family. He was a Sooner through and through."
OU hired Blake as the university's first Black head coach in any sport on Dec. 31, 1995. He was the football program's 20th head coach overall and just 34 years old when he accepted the position.
He went 12-22 as the Sooners' coach over three seasons. As a football coach, Blake was better known for his recruiting efforts, which influenced OU's 2000 roster that won a national title under his successor, Bob Stoops. Most notably, Blake convinced former Butkus Award winner Rocky Calmus and NFL Pro Bowl safety Roy Williams to sign with OU.
Blake's biggest victory arguably was his first as OU's head coach. His first OU team in 1996 went into its game against No. 25 Texas winless, but they emerged with a 30-27 overtime victory. The contest marked the Big 12 Conference's first ever overtime game in league history.
"This win is unexplainable, really," Blake said after the game on Oct. 12, 1996. "All I can think about is the love and commitment of all these kids."
OU finished the season 3-8. It's other two wins came at Baylor a week after beating Texas and against Oklahoma State in Stillwater on Nov. 9, 1996.
Blake was born March 6, 1961 and was raised in Sand Springs. He joined OU's football program in 1979, lettering four times as a nose guard on Switzer's teams.
Blake quickly transitioned to coaching following his playing career. He landed his first full-time assistant role with Tulsa in 1987. He then spent four seasons as an OU assistant under then-head coach Gary Gibbs from 1989-92.
"The thing I've always heard about Coach Blake is how much he loved and cared for his players and how those feelings were reciprocal," current OU football coach Lincoln Riley said in a statement.
"That's such a profound element of the coaching profession — developing bonds with players that extend beyond the field. Our program is very saddened to learn of Coach Blake's passing and we extend our deepest condolences to his family. Everything I know about him is that he loved being a Sooner."
Before returning to Norman in 1996, Blake departed OU in 1993 to become the Dallas Cowboys' defensive line coach. He was a part of two Super Bowl champion squads as an assistant to Jimmy Johnson during the 1993-94 season and Switzer for the Cowboy's 1995-96 campaign.
OU fired Blake near the end of the 1998 season. He got back into coaching in 2003 as a defensive line coach at Mississippi State. Blake held similar roles with Nebraska (2003) and North Carolina (2007-10). He also spent a season as a defensive line coach with the NFL's Buffalo Bills in 2016.
"I join the entire Sooner Nation in mourning Coach Blake's passing," University of Oklahoma President Joseph Harroz Jr. said in a statement. "His years of service to our University and Sooner football were critical building blocks to our program's success and the impact he had on our student-athletes is indelible. My sincerest sympathies and prayers are with the Blake family."