Great Coaches: Bud Wilkinson

22 Mar


Bud1Before he entered coaching, he briefly worked for his father’s mortgage company. But the lure of coaching football was too powerful, so Wilkinson became an assistant coach at Syracuse and then back at Minnesota. During World War II he served on an aircraft carrier with the U.S. Navy, and also coached a Navy football team at Iowa Preflight Academy, a school designed to prepare its students to enter Naval flight school.

faurot1 - at the  chalknoard

Dan Faurot at the chalkboard.

At Iowa Preflight, Wilkinson met and coached with Jim Tatum in 1946 where he learned the intricacies of Dan Faurot’s Split-T offense.  When Tatum was hired as the head football coach at the University of Oklahoma. Wilkinson followed Tatum to Norman, and after just one season, Tatum left the Sooners for Maryland. The 30-year-old Wilkinson was named head coach (and athletic director) and would soon make history with the option offense Farout had created and, with the aid of Gomer Jones,  his defensive coordinator, he would devise the 5-2 Defense, which became widely used by colleges and high schools and was simply known as the “Okie” defense.


In his first season of 1947, Wilkinson led Oklahoma to a 7-2-1 record and a share of the conference championship, the first of 13 consecutive Big Six/Seven/Eight conference titles. Ultimately, Wilkinson would become one of the most celebrated college coaches of all time. His teams captured national championships in 1950,1955, and 1956, and amassed a 145-29-4 (82.6%) overall record.

ou v nd in NBCs 1st TV  game

The centerpiece of his reign in Norman was a 47-game winning streak from 1953 to 1957, an NCAA FBS record that still stands today and has only been seriously threatened twice. Except for two losses in 1951, the Wilkinson-coached Sooners did not lose more than one game per season for 11 years from 1948 to 1958, going 107-8-2 over that period. He teams also went 12 consecutive seasons (1947-58) without a loss in conference play–a streak which has never been seriously threatened. Wilkinson did not suffer his first conference loss until Halloween 1959 – his 79th conference game at Oklahoma.

newspaper headline

Dome yearbook 1958: Newspaper headline following Notre Dame vs Oklahoma football game, 1957.

His 1955 Oklahoma team is considered one of the greatest teams in college football history, regardless of era. He was also the first collegiate football coach to host a television show, aptly named “The Bud Wilkinson Show.”

While Wilkinson was remarkable for compiling a legendary record, he was unique for showing a genuine interest in social change and concern for the performance of his players in the classroom. He was one of the first college coaches to integrate  his football team when, against great pressure, he awarded  Prentice Gautt a scholarship. Gautt was the first black football player at the school where he wore #38. He became a two-time All-Big Eight player and the 1959 Orange Bowl MVP.

Following the 1963 season, his 17th at Oklahoma, Wilkinson retired from coaching at the young age of 47.


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