For Chuck Fairbanks, Wishbone a "Tremendous Gamble" With Two Decades of Results

Apr 2, 2013

Former University of Oklahoma head football coach Chuck Fairbanks
Credit University of Oklahoma Athletic Department

Former University of Oklahoma football coach Chuck Fairbanks, who led the Sooners for six seasons during the resurgent 1970's, coaching a Heisman Trophy winner and installing the legendary Wishbone offense, has died after battling brain cancer. He was 79.

"It was a big gamble, a tremendous gamble," Fairbanks told author J. Brent Clark about installing the Wishbone three games into the 1970 season. "I wouldn't advise anyone to do it."

Oklahoma had switched to the veer before that season, and Fairbanks worried that abandoning that plan would be "an admission we made a mistake back in the spring."

Despite having three first-round NFL draft picks (including Heisman Trophy winner Steve Owens) during the 1969 season, the Sooners finished just 6-4, and "Chuck Chuck" bumper stickers started circulating around Norman.

The Wishbone formation would became the backbone of Oklahoma's offense for nearly two decades, and Sooners' record of 5,635 rushing yards in 1971 hasn't been seriously threatened for a quarter century.

Even current University of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops even acknowledged the Wishbone's role in OU history during his debut in 1999. In the Sooners' Sept. 11 opener against Indiana State, the team lined up in the formation for their first offensive play.

"I was fortunate to have many opportunities to get to know Chuck over the years," Stoops said in a statement. "He often visited his daughter in Norman around Thanksgiving, and I enjoyed our conversations when he attended practice.

Fairbanks ended his OU career in 1972 with a 52-15-1 record and three conference titles. He left OU in 1973 to spend six years as the head coach of the NFL's New England Patriots. He later returned to college football and the Big Eight conference as the head coach of the University of Colorado from 1979-1981.