Dean: Bud Wilkinson Was A Fascinating Winner & Ahead Of His Time

Thursday, April 21st 2016, 7:25 pm
By: Dean Blevins

*A pal suggested I read a book featuring Bud Wilkinson that has been out for years. My friend, an author himself, was complimentary of the author and told me there were tons of stories beginning with the Dust Bowl days through the end of the Hall of Fame coaches’ college coaching career.

*I have found fascinating stories and information in Jim Dent’s "The Undefeated" – a book focusing on Oklahoma’s 47-game win streak. Since I began going to OU games in 1963, I did not see any games during this era. But many of the OU stars would return when we’d have the Varsity-Alumni weekend and it was my pleasure to get to know many of them – including quarterbacks Jimmie Harris and Jay O’Neal, who actually helped coach several of our alumni teams. In fact, O’Neal was calling the shots when our Alumni team actually beat the Boz and a darn good Varsity team in the 80’s. I threw fifty passes that day and having All-Pro Gregg Pruitt at one receiver and Steve Zabel at tight end, didn’t hurt! But back to Bud and the boys….


* I was shocked to learn Bud Wilkinson’s salary reached $102,000, highest in the nation and “unheard of at that time” (Bud was OU’s head coach from 1947-1963). Over twenty years later, Barry Switzer would make less than half that. The $102K did not include the Wilkinson’s $40,000 mortgage that was paid off with proceeds from his coaches’ show – the first of its kind in college football.

*Additionally, Dent writes that Oklahoma Senator Robert S. Kerr was the most powerful and influential man in the state. To ensure that Wilkinson would finish his career at Oklahoma, Kerr raised a quarter million dollars for the coach. Kerr indeed gave the legendary coach the $250K as Kerr put great value in the fact that Wilkinson’s success and persona had provided enormous positive publicity for a state that was not far removed from the Dust Bowl and the horrible reputation that resulted after the best-seller Grapes of Wrath. Incidentally, Bud gave his longtime assistant – and his unsuccessful successor – Gomer Jones $50K of the $250.   


*Dent writes that during the NCAA record 47-game win streak, Bud and OU President George L. Cross had given a round of speeches and were attending a banquet honoring OU players from Muskogee. The Muskogee Quarterback Club knew its priorities. It presented the football coach with a brand-new Cadillac and the school president a cigarette lighter.


*Dent details stories where Wilkinson’s genius is obvious. The final game of the 1955 national championship season was an Orange Bowl matchup against Maryland, coached by Jim Tatum, a rapscallion of a man who actually coached the Sooners for one season back in 1946, with invaluable contributions from his greatly admired young assistant named Bud Wilkinson. The Sooners trailed the Terps 6-0 before their ‘hurry-up’ offense began to click. Still, at halftime, Bud felt the need to pick the pace up even faster –his lineman were outmanned twenty pounds per man, but were in superb condition – and directed QBs Jimmie Harris and Jay O’Neal to call plays at the line of scrimmage. The pace wore Maryland slick, and Oklahoma prevailed 20-6.

*Bud’s boys had gone 11-0 in 1955, after going 10-0 in 1954 – without winning the national title, I might add – and winning the last nine games of 1953. They were 30 games into what would become the 47-game win streak. Incredibly, the thirty game streak was not Wilkinson’s best at OU. He’d won 31 straight, beginning with the second game in 1948 and ending when one Paul Bear Bryant – a pal of Wilkinson’s – led his Kentucky team over OU 13-7 in the January 1, 1951 Orange Bowl.

*Finally, Wilkinson was simply a winner. Bud led the University of Minnesota to three straight national championships. And to top that, not only did he play QB, but he called plays when playing offensive guard!

*Call me a fuddy-duddy, but we believe the pregame dance routines that are getting all the play before Game 3 of the OKC v Dallas, are excessive. Russ and The Rook dance longer in their pregame ritual than I did in three years’ worth of junior high sock-hops.