The University of Oklahoma mourns the loss of Chuck Fairbanks, who compiled a 52-15-1 record as the Sooners' head coach from 1967-72. Fairbanks was 79 years old. He passed away in Scottsdale, Ariz., after succumbing to brain cancer.
"The University of Oklahoma fondly remembers Chuck Fairbanks," said OU vice president for intercollegiate athletics and director of athletics, Joe Castiglione. "Chuck provided stability and leadership for the program during a pivotal time in OU history and his lasting contributions to Oklahoma Football will always be appreciated."
Head coach Bob Stoops joined Castiglione in recalling the role that Fairbanks played in the evolution of OU Football's rich winning tradition.
"The Oklahoma Football family is saddened by the passing of Chuck Fairbanks, who holds a memorable place in Sooners' history," said Stoops. "His squads won three Big 8 championships and helped lay the foundation for the program's ongoing success with the installation of the wishbone-T offense. Chuck possessed an exceptional eye for talent, recruiting talented players like Heisman winner Steve Owens and enabling innovative assistant coaches like Barry Switzer to thrive.
"I was fortunate to have many opportunities to get to know Chuck over the years," Stoops continued. "He often visited his daughter in Norman around Thanksgiving, and I enjoyed our conversations when he attended practice. We offer our prayers and condolences to Chuck's family and the many individuals he touched during his time at the University of Oklahoma."
The 16th head coach in Oklahoma history, Fairbanks won three Big 8 Conference titles (1967, 1968 and 1972). He had 24 players earn all-league honors, while nine received All-America accolades. Fairbanks also coached the 1969 Heisman Trophy winner, running back Steve Owens. He posted a 3-1-1 bowl record with the Sooners playing in a pair of Sugar and Bluebonnet bowls and one Orange Bowl.
Fairbanks took over the Sooners' coaching reins after Jim Mackenzie passed away from a heart attack following the 1966 season. He immediately guided OU to a 10-1 record and a Big 8 title with the lone blemish on his rookie record coming by a narrow 9-7 margin vs. Texas. Fairbanks posted back-to-back 11-1 campaigns in 1971 and 1972 as the Sooners registered Sugar Bowl wins over Auburn and Penn State.
Fairbanks was the first OU coach to use the wishbone-T formation, a triple-option offensive attack that Texas used on its way to the 1969 national title. The wishbone-T became the backbone of OU's offensive dynasty for the next 20 years.
In 1973, Fairbanks left OU to coach in the NFL for the New England Patriots. During his six-year tenure as New England's head coach, Fairbanks produced a 46-41 record as the Patriots earned a Wild Card spot in 1976 and won the AFC East in 1978, marking the club's first division title since 1963. Fairbanks went on to coach the University of Colorado from 1979-81 and also served as head coach of the USFL's New Jersey Generals in 1983.
Fairbanks began his coaching career at Ishpeming High School in Michigan. From there, he went to Arizona State (under head coach Frank Kush) and Houston (under head coach Bill Yeoman) before coming to OU as a defensive backfield coach in 1966. As a player at Michigan State, Fairbanks played offensive end on the Spartans' 1952 national championship team. In 1954, he concluded his playing career by earning a berth in the Blue-Grey All-Star Game.
Here is the reaction of former coach Fairbanks recruit, OU quarterback and New 9 Sports Director Dean Blevins:
"One of the best and most unappreciated coaches passes away: Former Sooner coach (also New England and Colorado) Chuck Fairbanks lost his battle with brain cancer. Chuck coached the Sooners from 1967-72. Barry Switzer was a very good coach and a fabulous recruiter, but he inherited a powerhouse in-the-making when Chuck stunningly bolted to the NFL. Chuck recruited me when I was sophomore in high school and I always enjoyed his wonderful kids, Chuck Jr. and Gwen. Chuck left Oklahoma after going 11-1 in 1971 and 11-1 in 1972 and with a wealth of talented players and coaches. He was very smart, organized, innovative and competitive.
His ‘70 team began a dominant run of the wishbone and Bill Belichick – who considered Chuck a mentor – credits him with bringing in the 3-4 defense. Chuck was hired by another incredibly gifted but unappreciated coach in Jim Mackenzie in 1966. Jim left Frank Broyles and Arkansas and immediately hired a big-time staff and immediately turned a struggling program around. His fatal heart attack ended what would have been a brilliant career. Fairbanks took the torch and caught up with the pack...and was in the middle of surpassing everyone. And I mean everyone.
His departure allowed another Arkansan the extremely rare opportunity to take over a monster in the making.
Obviously no disrespect to coach Switzer, but it was Chuck Fairbanks who had perched the Sooner program in a position to thrive. RIP Chuck. Job well done. And condolences to Chuck Jr. and Gwen."