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How Bennie Owen Laid The Foundation For A Century Of Sooner Football Success

Dec 14, 2015

Before Bud Wilkinson won 47 straight, before Barry Switzer “hung half-a-hundred” on his opponents, and before Bob Stoops restored the shine to the University of Oklahoma’s football program in the early 2000s, there was Bennie Owen.

The diminutive Arkansas City, Kansas native arrived at the University of Oklahoma in 1905 to coach a football team that had only briefly tasted success in its first decade of existence.

“He never probably weighed more than about 135 or 140 pounds, about 5’6” or 5’7”. But he just had this type of a personality that people wanted to follow,” said Gary King, a retired Rose State College psychology professor and the author of Oklahoma’s Bennie Owen: Man For All Seasons. “One sportswriter wrote about Bennie, that ‘Bennie Owen was a leader of men.’ And that pretty well sums him up. He was indeed a leader of men, and people wanted to follow him. They wanted to play on his teams, and he was just a very dominant personality.”

Bennie Owen's photo in the 1916 "Sooner" yearbook.
Credit The University of Oklahoma

Geronimo, Sitting Bull, “Buffalo” Bill Cody and Wyatt Earp were all still alive during Owen’s childhood. Even though he’s not an Oklahoma native, his early life parallels the birth of the state where he left a legacy as the architect of one of its most well-known cultural exports – OU football.

As a 17-year-old, he saddled up his black pony named Beauty and participated in the 1893 land run that opened up the Cherokee Outlet in northern Oklahoma.

“He was too young to file a claim, and his father already had good land, and he wasn’t really interested in the land run. But this was a time of great adventure,” King said. “He was the kind of kid, adventurous boy, that wasn’t going to miss a great adventure like that. He had to be a part of it.”

That resourceful and entrepreneurial spirit followed him throughout his life. At 32, he lost his right arm in an accident involving a shotgun while returning from hunting quail. But he never let it affect him, and continued to hunt, fish, drive his tractor and live a full life.

OU’s longest-tenured head coach led the Sooners to four undefeated seasons and three conference titles between 1905 and 1926. It was a time of athletic and social innovation and change. The legalization of the forward pass in college football in 1906 allowed Owen to experiment and innovate as he recruited players with the talents to take advantage of the new rules. World War I forced the Sooners to play a shortened schedule in 1918, and several of his former players succumbed to the 1918 worldwide influenza pandemic. That outbreak killed more than three times the number of people who died during the simultaneous war.

The plaque at the base of Bennie Owen's statue on the University of Oklahoma campus.
Credit Brian Hardzinski / KGOU

Beyond the success on the gridiron, Owen’s legacy includes some of the most prominent (and most-visited) structures on OU’s campus. He led fundraisers and was the driving force behind the football stadium, the Oklahoma Memorial Union, the fieldhouse, the intramural fields and the university’s first golf course.

“When you say, ‘Built the stadium,' I mean that is literally true, in a sense. There’s a picture of Bennie laying bricks, building the football stadium,” King said. “Bennie lobbied the state legislature to get money to build the football stadium, but they weren’t interested in giving the school any money then. So Bennie kind of went out and beat the bushes, and students themselves would donate sometimes $100 [roughly $1390.87 in 2015 dollars] to the building of the stadium.”

Owen tends to be left behind during conversations about OU’s other successful coaches – Wilkinson, Switzer, and Stoops. That’s partially due to time – Owen moved away from Norman in 1964 and died in 1970. It’s been nearly a century since Owen roamed the sideline, and every player he ever coached has since passed away. But his achievements were recognized, and valued, by those who could continue his legacy. In 1955, the University of Oklahoma held a dinner in Owen’s honor marking 50 years since he took the reins of Sooner football. Dewey “Snorter” Luster, a former player of Owen’s and the Sooners’ head football coach from 1941-1945, served as the master of ceremonies, and many other former players reminisced about their coach and their days at OU. A 10-year-old King was in the audience that evening, along with Wilkinson, who was in the middle of the legendary (and still unbroken) 47-game winning streak and about to win the first of OU’s back-to-back national championships.

Bennie Owen with University of Oklahoma head football coach Bud Wilkinson.
Credit The University of Oklahoma / Pinterest

“Bud stood up and made a short speech and credited Bennie with starting the Sooner tradition here, and with getting such good facilities here for his team to use,” King said. “He thought they were the best that he had ever seen. The locker rooms, the stadium at that time, the practice field and everything. People who really knew football before World War II understood that Bennie had laid the foundation here for the OU football program.”

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Interview Highlights

On Owen’s athletic success beyond football

A lot of people don't realize this, but Bennie Owen also coached basketball and baseball at OU. And he actually had three undefeated basketball teams. He was the head basketball coach from 1909 to 1921, and roughly the same time frame there in baseball. But also, there's kind of a subtle reference there, I think, to Thomas More and the movie A Man for All Seasons. A man who is very true to his beliefs and to his word, and Bennie was very much like that. He very much knew who he was, and he believed in what he was doing, and his values, and he didn't waver. He didn't blow in the wind, so to speak. He was a very decisive man, and lived by simple principles.

On Owen’s role in the 1893 Cherokee Outlet land run

This was a time of great adventure, and Bennie had watched people come in for the land run. They came in covered wagons. They came on trains and mules and horseback and on foot. And he had watched this town grow from a town of about 5,000 people to about 50,000 people within a span of about a few months. And he knew that there was going to be this great land run, so he got his pony, Beauty, his black mare Beauty, and they lined up at the start of the land run. And Bennie raced among the leaders of the land run for about four miles down south into Oklahoma. And then he pulled up and headed back. He wasn't going to file a claim or anything, but he was the kind of kid, adventurous boy that wasn't going to miss a great adventure like that. He had to be a part of it.

On the hunting accident that took Owen’s right arm

Bennie was hunting with his good friend John, and they had finished their hunting for the day. In fact, Bennie had to get back for football practice. So they got into the buggy that John Barber was driving. And they got their dogs in the buggy, and the dogs were restless and they were kind of jumping around in there. And somehow a shotgun went off and it hit Bennie in his right arm just a little below his shoulder. And all he said was, he didn't cry out or scream or anything, he said, "Got me that time, John." And John could see what the problem was, so he immediately applied a tourniquet, and they headed back into Norman as fast as they could in the buggy. As fast as the little horse could trot. So they took him down to a doctor, which was, his first doctor's office they went to on Main Street, just a little bit east of the Sooner Theatre and upstairs. The first doctor they went to wasn't there because he was out quail hunting. So finally they found another doctor, and Bennie had to walk up a flight of stairs, by the way. But this other doctor examined him and could see it was a pretty serious thing. He called in a surgeon from Oklahoma City. The surgeon got on the interurban, came down that night, and amputated Bennie's right arm. And Bennie, at this time, was 32 years old. So he lived the rest of his life without a right arm. And I recall seeing Bennie. He lived in Norman until 1964. So I remember seeing him around town down on the Campus Corner. You could always notice him because he had that right sleeve pinned up, his coat sleeve pinned up, because he didn't have a right arm. But all of his friends said that you would never know this about Bennie. That he carried on just like he had two arms. He never complained. Did everything you wanted. Went hunting. Went fishing. Lived a full life.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

BRIAN HARDZINSKI, HOST: Gary King, welcome to Oklahoma Voices.

GARY KING: Thanks Brian. Thanks for having me.

HARDZINSKI: You’re here to talk about your latest book, which is a biography of Bennie Owen. And he’s best known as the head football coach of the University of Oklahoma from the early 1900s to the mid-20s. The field where the Sooners play is named after him. And you subtitled this book “A Man For All Seasons.” What did you mean by that?

KING: Well, a lot of people don't realize this, but Bennie Owen also coached basketball and baseball at OU. And he actually had three undefeated basketball teams. He was the head basketball coach from 1909 to 1921, and roughly the same time frame there in baseball. But also, there's kind of a subtle reference there, I think, to Thomas More and the movie A Man for All Seasons. A man who is very true to his beliefs and to his word, and Bennie was very much like that. He very much knew who he was, and he believed in what he was doing, and his values, and he didn't waver. He didn't blow in the wind, so to speak. He was a very decisive man, and lived by simple principles.

HARDZINSKI: You dedicated this book to Owen’s family, but you wrote "especially to Dorothy.” And that’s a quote from the front page. She’s Bennie Owen’s only surviving daughter. What was her role, and the rest of the family’s involvement in this project?

KING: Well, there aren't a whole lot of people you can interview anymore about Bennie Owen, because none of his players survive, and lots of the children of his players don't survive. So Bennie Owen's daughter Dorothy Bryan is 96 years old today, but still very lucid and I was able to interview her and a couple of Bennie Owen's granddaughters. And they were just about the only people I could interview that really knew the man very well.

HARDZINSKI: What did they tell you about their grandfather and their father?

KING: Well, they said that he was just the best father and grandfather there could've ever been. And he just had wonderful patience with his children and with his grandchildren, and they all loved him so much. The granddaughters loved to come and visit Bennie, and he would play cards with them, take them fishing, take them swimming. He just would do almost anything they wanted him to do.

HARDZINSKI: I loved your description of Owen’s early life. You write that Geronimo, Sitting Bull, "Buffalo" Bill Cody, and Wyatt Earp were all still alive during Owen’s childhood, and you described Bennie as resourceful, entrepreneurial, and generally just kind of scrappy. How did that upbringing impact his later life and what he then brought to the University of Oklahoma?

KING: Well, it's very interesting about Bennie. Bennie was always the pack leader. The alpha dog wherever he was. Whatever he group he might have been in. Whether it was his friends in St. Louis that he played baseball with and swam in the Mississippi with, and later when he went to the University of Kansas and became captain of the football team. He was not a big man. He never probably weighed more than about 135 or 140 pounds. About 5'6", 5'7". But he just had this type of a personality that people wanted to follow him. He was, as I state in the book there, that one sportswriter wrote about Bennie, that "Bennie Owen was a leader of men." And that pretty well sums him up. He was indeed a leader of men, and people wanted to follow him. They wanted to play on his teams, and he was just a very dominant personality.

HARDZINSKI: I found it really fascinating that Bennie Owen was so tied into the early history of this state, even though he didn't grow up here. He had a small role in the 1893 land run that opened up the Cherokee Outlet in northern Oklahoma, and then he started laying the foundation for one of Oklahoma’s most well-known cultural exports, and that's OU football, even before Oklahoma became a state. Tell me a little bit about that experience in that land run, and what's the connection to his time when he became a permanent Oklahoman?

KING: Well, at the time of the land run, Bennie Owen was 17 years old, and he lived with his family on a farm near Arkansas City, Kansas. And that was the northern boundary of the Cherokee Strip land run. Now Bennie was, at 17 years old, he was too young to file a claim. And his father already had good land, and he wasn't really interested in the land run. But this was a time of great adventure, and Bennie had watched people come in for the land run. They came in covered wagons. They came on trains and mules and horseback and on foot. And he had watched this town grow from a town of about 5,000 people to about 50,000 people within a span of about a few months. And he knew that there was going to be this great land run, so he got his pony, Beauty, his black mare Beauty, and they lined up at the start of the land run. And Bennie raced among the leaders of the land run for about four miles down south into Oklahoma. And then he pulled up and headed back. He wasn't going to file a claim or anything, but he was the kind of kid, adventurous boy that wasn't going to miss a great adventure like that. He had to be a part of it.

HARDZINSKI: So you mentioned that he grew up in Kansas, and played football for the University of Kansas, and he eventually built his reputation as a young coach at some of those smaller colleges in Kansas, and even spent some time at the University of Michigan in the early days of their legendary football program. What did he learn and acquire along the way at each of those stops that he then brought to Norman in 1905?

KING: Well, his coach at the University of Kansas was Fielding Yost, who later went on to make his fame, really, at the University of Michigan. But Bennie's first head coaching job was at Washburn University. And this was just one year after he had quarterbacked the University of Kansas team to an undefeated season. Which may be the only undefeated season KU has ever had, I guess. But anyway, he coached one year at Washburn as a head coach, and he had already made such a reputation for himself as just a quarterback for Yost, that Washburn hired him to be their head coach. He was 25 years old at this time. Then, Yost called him, and Yost needed an assistant coach at Michigan. And he called up Bennie to come and be his assistant, and Bennie was an assistant there for one year, 1901, and this was such an amazing team. They were undefeated, and they played in and won the first Rose Bowl, and they defeated their opponents by a cumulative score of 555-0. They were unscored on, and they scored 555 points. But then Bennie had an opportunity to go Lindsborg, Kansas, and coach at Bethany College. And he was really a head coach. He didn't want to be an assistant. He wanted his own team. So that was a good deal for him. And he wanted to be the head coach, so he went to Bethany College. Coached there three years, had an undefeated team there at Bethany, and that was where he made his reputation. Where he played OU at Bethany. Defeated OU in 1903 and 1904. And OU thought, "Well, here's a good coach. Let's get this guy."

HARDZINSKI: So how did he wind up in Norman then. I love the name of the team from Bethany. They were called the "Terrible Swedes." And you just mentioned that he played OU as the head coach of Bethany in 1903 and 1904. What effect did that have on the fans and administrators in Norman?

KING: Well, they were so impressed with Bennie's coaching. He had beaten OU, and beaten them rather soundly. And one of the great mysteries, I guess, about the history of OU football is why did Bennie Owen come to the University of Oklahoma in the first place? He already had a good job, and it looked like he could beat OU. Bethany was probably a better team at this time. And OU was struggling. Oklahoma wasn't even a state yet. The enrollment at OU might have been 250 people or something. But somehow he was convinced to come to OU, that there was great potential here, so he did. And Norman was just a little windswept prairie town then. Hardly any trees there at all. And yet Bennie decided to take the job.

HARDZINSKI: I’ve walked by the statues of Bennie Owen, and Bud Wilkinson, and Barry Switzer along the east side of the stadium with family and friends on campus before, and I’ve been asked more than once, “Why is his hand in his pocket?” And it’s actually the sleeve of his jacket that's sewn to his coat because he didn’t have a use for that sleeve. Tell me more about why that is, and how it affected his life?

KING: Bennie lost his right arm in a hunting accident in 1907. He and his good friend John Barber were hunting quail down near the Canadian River, where the Adkins Ford was. In those days, there was no bridge. So if you wanted to cross the river you had to ford there. So Bennie was hunting with his good friend John, and they had finished their hunting for the day. In fact, Bennie had to get back for football practice. So they got into the buggy that John Barber was driving. And they got their dogs in the buggy, and the dogs were restless and they were kind of jumping around in there. And somehow a shotgun went off and it hit Bennie in his right arm just a little below his shoulder. And all he said was, he didn't cry out or scream or anything, he said, "Got me that time, John." And John could see what the problem was, so he immediately applied a tourniquet, and they headed back into Norman as fast as they could in the buggy. As fast as the little horse could trot. So they took him down to a doctor, which was, his first doctor's office they went to on Main Street, just a little bit east of the Sooner Theatre and upstairs. The first doctor they went to wasn't there because he was out quail hunting. So finally they found another doctor, and Bennie had to walk up a flight of stairs, by the way. But this other doctor examined him and could see it was a pretty serious thing. He called in a surgeon from Oklahoma City. The surgeon got on the interurban, came down that night, and amputated Bennie's right arm. And Bennie, at this time, was 32 years old. So he lived the rest of his life without a right arm. And I recall seeing Bennie. He lived in Norman until 1964. So I remember seeing him around town down on the Campus Corner. You could always notice him because he had that right sleeve pinned up, his coat sleeve pinned up, because he didn't have a right arm. But all of his friends said that you would never know this about Bennie. That he carried on just like he had two arms. He never complained. Did everything you wanted. Went hunting. Went fishing. Lived a full life.

HARDZINSKI: Did you ever get a chance to meet him or talk with him when you were both in Norman?

KING: No, I never spoke to him. I never was introduced to him, I never met him. But I knew who he was. I saw him a few times in Sturr's grocery store out on Main and Berry Road. And when I was 10 years old, in fact, just a few days before my 11th birthday in 1955, my father took me to a dinner in honor of Bennie Owen. They were celebrating his 50th anniversary at the University of Oklahoma. So I had heard about him. My dad tried to tell me who he was, and what an important person he'd been, and what a great coach he had been. So we attended this dinner and banquet. I think then the tickets cost something like $2.50. I remember "Snorter" Luster, the old football coach who had played for Bennie was master of ceremonies, and I don't specifically remember what was said. But I know that Snorter had people laughing a lot, and a lot of Bennie's old players got up and talked about him, and reminisced about their days at OU. But I never formally met the man.

HARDZINSKI: You wrote so eloquently about that dinner in your book, I had absolutely no idea you were there. That's incredible. I think it’s interesting that Owen came to OU right at the start of a period of significant change in college football as a whole, and probably the most notable is the legalization of the forward pass. How did he adapt to that reorganization?

KING: Well, that was really the secret to Bennie's coaching success. Between the years of 1905 and 1912, there were significant changes in the rules of college football. As you mentioned, probably the most obvious one was that in 1905 and before this, forward passes were illegal. So nobody was throwing the ball then. Then, the forward pass was legalized in 1906, but nobody really knew how to throw the ball. How to run pass routes. The ball then was more like a big pumpkin than the streamlined football we have today. But there were a lot of other differences then, too. For example, in 1905 and for several years really after that you only had to have five men on the line of scrimmage. And linemen could run with the ball in those days. So then they went to six men on the line of scrimmage, but in 1908 Bennie had a couple of tackles named Campbell and Douglas, and these guys ran with the football a lot. They were probably his leading rushers. But anyway, as the game evolved, and changes came in and Bennie got a great quarterback, Forrest Park Geyer, or "Spot" Geyer, who could really throw the ball, then he took advantage of the new rules and implemented the forward pass and a lot of other formations and things that you couldn't have done in the early days of football.

HARDZINSKI: And you wrote that Owen isn’t really given as much credit as he probably deserves for how much he influenced the way the game is played. Why were those innovations ignored?

KING: Well, early in Bennie's career, and really I guess throughout most of his career, football was kind of an eastern game. And when Bennie was a young boy, he never really saw anybody playing football until he was 16 or 17 years old. The game had not really advanced very far west. Certainly not very far west of the Mississippi River. So most of the sportswriters lived in the east, you heard a lot about the Ivy League schools and a little bit later at the University of Chicago, Amos Alonzo Stagg, Notre Dame. But I'm afraid the sportwriters - the Walter Camps, Grantland Rice, people like this - didn't pay much attention to what was going on way out west here, and so a lot of Bennie's teams and a lot of the things he did were kind of under the radar then, so to speak. They talk about today an eastern bias in football. But it was even worse, probably, in Bennie's day. A lot worse, really.

HARDZINSKI: At the start of this conversation you mentioned that Owen also coached basketball and baseball at OU. I want you to read a passage from page 102 of your book. It's from the Valentine’s Day, 1908 edition of the OU student newspaper where they ask “What’s the matter with baseball?”

KING: Unlike football, it isn't essentially a college sport. It's greatest players and greatest advocates are outside the college world. And its best exhibitions are on the professional diamonds. Now, when we deny men the right to play on our teams when they play on professional teams in the summer, we kill the sport. For the college season, baseball barely passes the practice time of professional teams. And the men who play only college baseball do not become proficient enough in the sport to put up a first-class exhibition of baseball. And the games are not patronized. Besides, we do not like the idea of making college a preparatory school to professional baseball. Such is the sad news for college baseball in general.

HARDZINSKI: And I love that last sentence, because that’s exactly what colleges have become – they're minor leagues to the National Football League, in particular. Tell me about his time as the baseball coach, and how OU evolved under his leadership.

KING: Well, Bennie loved baseball, and he knew baseball very well. That was the sport that he first played as a young boy with his friends in St. Louis. They had the St. Louis Browns then, and these were great heroes. They were great teams in those days. And Bennie learned the game watching the Browns play. And his father, Bennie's father, had been a professional baseball player. He was a barehanded catcher in those days. Catchers didn't wear any gloves, apparently, in those days. And he learned baseball with his friends, with his father, with his brother. So he really did know the game. And he was a baseball coach at OU until roughly, I guess, I think maybe 1922 was his last year. And then his brother, Bill, took over, and coached OU for four more years. And after Bill retired, "Jap" Haskell then coached OU from 1927 to 1942. And "Jap" Haskell had played for Bennie. And after "Jap" Haskell, Jack Baer took over. And Baer had played for Haskell. So Baer coached OU from 1942 until 1967. And so you could easily say here that for almost 60-some years, Bennie had a great influence on baseball at the University of Oklahoma because the coaches had either played for him, or had played for a coach who did play for Bennie.

HARDZINSKI: I think one of the most surprising revelations about that baseball chapter was just who OU was playing in those days. I mean, I had no idea some of the teams...there wasn't really a college baseball culture or other conference teams for them to play. So they were bringing in professional teams. And it was really a "who's who" of turn-of-the-century baseball that they were bringing on.

KING: Well, they really did. In those days a lot of the professional teams. The New York Giants, the Chicago White Sox held their spring training in Texas. They didn't go to Florida apparently so much in those days. But they would go down south to Texas to try to find warmer weather for their spring practice. So on their way back north before the professional season started, they would often stop off and play games against OU. Both the Chicago teams. John McGraw brought his Giants through here several times to play against Bennie's teams. So the fans that went to those games really did see some great players. The Chicago White Sox, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, for example, with the Chicago White Sox before the scandal in 1919 and everything. So Bennie's boys took a pretty good thumping from these guys because they were great teams and great players. But it was an interesting thing. I'm sure Bennie must have picked up a lot of pointers on the game from people like John McGraw.

HARDZINSKI: It's fairly well-known how World War II affected the OU football program. The school lost a lot of their best athletes to the draft. But the flip side of that is that many GIs returned with new education benefits, and these were now 24-, 25-year-old men. And these are people like Darrell Royal, Wade Walker, head coach Bud Wilkinson, and this set the foundation for the juggernaut that OU became in the 1950s. But what I'm curious about is how World War I affected OU athletics. It came right in the middle of Bennie Owen's tenure as coach.

KING: Right. Well, some teams shut down and didn't play in 1917 or 1918. So OU, there were a couple of years there they couldn't play a full schedule. OU did play a few games. They never cancelled a season or anything. But a lot of the players did go and fight in the war, a couple of them were killed in action. But some won medals. They were highly decorated. But also at this time there was an epidemic of the Spanish flu. And I didn't realize this until I went back and did this research and everything. But more people died from this flu than died in World War I. And some of Bennie's former players did succumb to this epidemic. But it did certainly disrupt the football practice there. In fact, there is this one character who came to OU. He was an Army captain, and he had been assigned here to OU I guess to be in charge of the ROTC or something. And he told Bennie that he couldn't practice football, because his men, ROTC, had to have the football field to drill on. And Bennie almost got in a fight with this guy even though he only had one arm. But the president, Stratton Brooks, finally ironed that out, and this guy moved on and they got a new director. So they resolved that incident. It turned out not to be a big deal.

HARDZINSKI: In one of your chapters you called Owen "the architect of Soonerland." You always hear Yankee Stadium, which opened in 1923, described as "the House that Babe Ruth Built." And Oklahoma Memorial Stadium is really the house that Bennie Owen built. They even opened in the same year, 1923. Tell me about his role in the creation of the facility that now partially bears his name.

KING: Well, Bennie was the driving force behind the building - not just of the football stadium - but also the Memorial Union building. The old field house. The intramural fields. But really, when you say built the stadium, I mean that is literally true, in a sense. There's a picture of Bennie laying bricks building the football stadium. But what he did was he went out and organized students, faculty, a lot of alumni to raise money to build this stadium. They'd been playing all their games, ever since Bennie had come, they'd played on Boyd Field. Which held maybe, at the most, maybe 3,500 people. But the best I can figure Boyd Field would be, it must've been kind of just a little bit north of where the student union is today. But anyway, Bennie lobbied the legislature to get money, the state legislature, to get money to build the football stadium. But they weren't interested in giving the school any money then. So Bennie kind of went out and beat the bushes, and students themselves would donate sometimes $100 to the building of the stadium. And, as you said, it was first opened in 1923, Bennie was still coaching at that point. So they finally got a, I guess the original stadium may have held 20,000 people. I don't know. Something like that.

OWEN: And, there was something that struck me too. There were people that were calling for him to step down as coach that same year that stadium was opened. Why would that happen?

KING: Well, you know, I don't understand that, but they thought Bennie, I guess, was overworked, maybe. He had a lot to do. He was the athletic director and football coach. So some people thought it was time for Bennie to retire, I suppose, and move on, and just become the Director of Athletics, give up his coaching. But he didn't until 1926.

HARDZINSKI: Tell me about the end of his life. You had mentioned a few minutes ago that he lived in Norman until 1964. After he stepped down as the head football coach in the 1920s, he stayed on as athletic director for a time. What did he do during that period?

KING: Well, he was director of athletics for several more years. Then he was the intramural director. He built a golf course here. Which is today, it's known as "the Duck Pond." Formally, I guess, it's Brandt Park. But today it's known as the Duck Pond. But in Bennie's day, sometime in the late 20s after he retired from coaching, bought this land from a friend of his who lived in Tulsa, and built a 9-hole golf course there. And again, when I say built it, he literally drove the tractor that moved the dirt around. And later he mowed the fairways and greens on the tractor. So Bennie kept busy. He was always doing something. He wasn't one who could just sit still. He had to be involved in something and working and always had to have some projects going.

HARDZINSKI: Finally, I want to ask about his legacy. I don't want to call him a forgotten coach. I don't think that's the case at all. But he does tend to get left behind in the conversation about Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer, and Bob Stoops. Why is that?

KING: Well, because Bennie coached 100 years ago here. And most people think about, they think the history of OU football started with Bud Wilkinson after World War II. And they really don't think much about OU football prior to this time. But when Bud came here, and in fact, at this dinner for Bennie in 1955, Bud stood up and made a short speech and credited Bennie with starting the Sooner tradition here and with getting such good facilities here for his team to use. He thought they were the best that he had ever seen. The locker rooms, the stadium at that time, the practice field and everything. But, you know, people who really knew football, and before World War II, understood that Bennie had laid the foundation here for the OU football program.

HARDZINSKI: Gary King, the author of Oklahoma's Bennie Owen: A Man for All Seasons, it's been a privilege to talk to you today.

KING: Well thank you, Brian, I enjoyed it.

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