I think Marylandis the No. 1 team in the East, Georgia Tech in the Southeast, Rice and Texas inthe Southwest and UCLA on the Coast," Football Coach Bud Wilkinson said."In the Big Ten, Michigan and Ohio State. In the Big Seven,Colorado."
The Universityof Oklahoma, Wilkinson's own school and champion of the Big Seven Conferencefor the past seven years, was not mentioned, a deliberate oversight which hasprompted 13-year-old Jay Wilkinson to remark, "The trouble with Dad is,he'll never say we'll win. It's always going to be a poor year. He's alwayspredicting we're going to get beat—and one of these years we will."
Bud Wilkinsonhas been accused frequently of professional pessimism.
"I don'tthink I overdo it," he said as he sat behind his desk in the AthleticDepartment of the University of Oklahoma, "but I guess I'm a minority vote.I'd be just as dishonest to say we're going to win, if I didn't believe I , asI would be to say we're going to lose."
September 11, 1955
Regardless ofwhat he says, the 39-year-old coach's record stands as the best in currentfootball. His teams have been the only ones to place annually in the nation'stop 10 in the last seven Associated Press polls. They have scored in 95consecutive games, a national record, and have given the country 18All-Americans. Recently Frank Leahy, Notre Dame's famed ex-coach, listedWilkinson as one of the 10 outstanding football coaches of all time. Twice,Wilkinson has been voted Coach of the Year: in 1949 by the National FootballCoaches Association after his team had gone through the season undefeated, andby the Associated Press in 1950, another undefeated year.
"Frankly,I'm not interested in records," Wilkinson said. "The thing I'm proudestof is the type of boy represented at Oklahoma in football. When people say tome, 'Coach, what kind of team will we have this year?' I say, I think we'llhave a good college team,' but they aren't concerned about that. All they wantto know is 'how many games are we going to win and how many are we going tolose?'
"The averagealumnus looks at the scoreboard and sees that one team won and the otherlost—so the team that won was smartly coached, well conditioned, ran the properoffense, used the right defenses and had outstanding morale. The other team wasstupid. That's about the way most of them look at it."
A MATTER OFMIND
"Inreality," Wilkinson continued, "what takes place is that both teams arewell conditioned, smartly coached. They're both made up of fine young men. Thewinning or losing is in that intangible factor of mental toughness. You've gotto have that to be a champion...where you get it, I don't know, but you've gotto have it.
"If you'regoing to be a champion, you must be willing to pay a greater price than youropponent will ever pay. Critics of athletics say that's too much of an all-outapproach. They want it to be played just for fun, but just going out there andgoing through the motions defies the purpose of competition. If you're outthere just to take up space, you aren't playing the game. It's meant to beplayed as well as you can play. If you're just joking around you aren't doingcredit to yourself or the game. There must be the willingness to compete whenthe chips are dow. Some people don't want to pay this price—and I've noobjections to them—but I don't want them around because we aren't going to winwith them.
"I use BenHogan as an example to my boys. I was plain sick when Hogan lost the Open. Ididn't get over it for a couple of days—I'm still not over it.... Hogan is themost outstanding individual performer for my money, not only from thestandpoint of his concentration but because of the price he paid in preparationto avoid ever hitting a bad shot. If a football player who's subject todaydreaming—as we all are—daydreams at the wrong time, he'll make a mistakethat defeats you. Our approach to football is: don't make mistakes!
"Unless ourstandards are high in everything, the entire group will retrogress to thelowest level. When we travel, we're going to travel as well as we can. Ouruniforms will be the best, and we'll try to look the neatest and be thecleanest and the smartest. In every possible ramification, we're going to tryto shoot for the moon. People who are going to play well operate that way. Forinstance, I don't think a good golfer can play with dirty clubs."
Wilkinson wascaptain of the golf team when he attended the University of Minnesota in themiddle '30s. A seven-handicapper, he plays golf whenever he gets a chance,which isn't often, although the Oklahoma school has its own 18-hole course. Onthe golf course Wilkinson's competitive drive is just as much in evidence aswhen he's coaching his football team.
"C'mon,baby; c'mon, baby," he'll call to a putt that's nearing the cup. If itdrops, he's delighted. If it doesn't, he's more determined than ever that thenext one will be better.
In thelockerrooms at O.U., huge red and white placards pound home the words, PLAYLIKE A CHAMPION. Yet if a boy doesn't want to play at all, that's hisprivilege, too.
"I don't seeany reason why a boy should feel he has to be a football player, if it'sagainst his personality," Wilkinson said. "He'd be better off in someother line of endeavor. A lot of kids participate in football because theirgirl thinks it's nice or their parents want them to, but there's a tremendousnumber of young men who are blessed with an abundance of physical energy andtruly combative spirit. They have to relieve themselves of that pressure andtest their minds and bodies. Football fulfills that demand for total effort andteaches them fair play, discipline, teamwork and loyalty.
"Skillsdemanded in other sports are all needed in football. There's the straightcombat of boxing and wrestling, the speed of foot of track and running, thethrowing and catching of baseball and basketball, the extremely difficult artof kicking and judgment of the ball as in tennis."
Wilkinson was aguard under the incredibly successful Bernie Bierman at Minnesota in 1934-35.He was switched to blocking back in 1936 and called signals in the single wingback system they used in those days. The Gophers won two national championshipsin 1934 and 1936. In the summer of 1937, at Soldier Field in Chicago, hequarterbacked the college All-Stars to their first victory in the All-Star proseries, beating the Green Bay Packers, 6-0.
"I learned99% of my football from Bierman, not only from the morale standpoint buttechnically," Wilkinson said. " 'Don't become sold on the type offootball that defeats teams you could defeat anyway,' Bierman used to say.'Base your play on standards most likely to defeat the champions. You can'tfool a good team. The good ones don't take the fake. You've got to block'em.'
"Anotherthing I believe—and I got this from Henry Iba, basketball coach at OklahomaA&M—is, 'Your measure of a coach is based on how well he creates inpractice the situations the player will face in a game, and keeps repeating ituntil the player reacts properly by rote memory.' That sounds a little fancy,but it isn't. Most of us coaches are adapters and copycats. There really arevery few original ideas. Missouri Coach Don Faurot's idea of splitting thelinemen—that's the Split-T—was an original contribution."
But it was BudWilkinson, who worked under Faurot a year at Iowa Pre-Flight, who has compiledthe greatest record with the Split-T.
"We play theSplit-T," he explained, "because we think we can teach it moreeffectively than any other offense in the short period of practice time allowedus; and the fluid pattern of the play enables our individual linemen to move atwill laterally.
"That's thereason we play the Split-T, not because I think it's a vastly superior methodof advancing the ball. If it were that much better, everybody would use it andteams that didn't use it wouldn't win. Last year, UCLA playing single wing wasthe best team on the Pacific Coast."
Wilkinson beganto thumb through papers on his desk. Finally he found a clipping from the UCLAalumni magazine containing a statement by UCLA Coach Red Sanders, listing hisreasons why he didn't think his 1955 team might be as successful as lastyear's. Sanders cited the loss of seven valuable players, unsatisfactory springtraining due to injuries and absences, and a more arduous fall schedule.
"This is thepart I like best," Wilkinson said happily, as though he had found anaccomplice in his close friend. Reading aloud, he quoted Sanders: " 'Inview of the foregoing facts and reasons, it is, therefore, difficult for me tofigure how anyone in possession of all his mental faculties could possiblyexpect us to approach last year's record or quality of performance. To becomeenthusiastic now over our chances would indeed be unreasonable and might tendto sow the seeds of discord.'
" '...mighttend to sow the seeds of discord,' " Wilkinson repeated, relishingeverything it implied. "He means among his opponents, and I can't think ofa better policy than staying on good terms with teams you'll play."
A peace-lovingman, Wilkinson prefers to concern himself solely with intercollegiate athleticsand not get involved in internecine warfare. However, there's talk that ifMinneapolis-born Charles Burnham (Bud) Wilkinson were to run for politicaloffice in Oklahoma, he'd win by a landslide. His winning teams have been atonic to the state, and the rabid rooters have been equally therapeutic for thegate receipts. Norman, the university site, has a population of 27,000; but25,647 seats were added to the school stadium in 1949, two years afterWilkinson started winning. In 1954, an average of 51,645 fans attended the fourhome games. But Wilkinson is politically unambitious, and thus far has beencontent with his $15,000-a-year post. He has turned down better offers, both infootball and in business.
"Peoplethink I've been given some oil wells and that's why I stay here," Wilkinsonsaid, as he broiled steaks in the backyard of his comfortable, air-conditionedranch house. "That's not true. I like it here. Competitive athletics are anintegral part of the life of this area, and our president, Dr. George L. Cross,is a staunch supporter of intercollegiate athletics. He doesn't just toleratethem as many educational institutions do."
Mrs. Wilkinson,Mary, a tall, slender, striking brunette, nodded agreement. A closely knitfamily that includes Jay, his brother Pat, 15, and Ginger, a mongrel purchasedfor the princely sum of $2.00, the Wilkinsons like their life in Norman.
The story wastold—not by Mrs. Wilkinson—that last year a death occurred in the family of oneof the assistant coaches. He and his wife had to leave hurriedly to attend thefuneral some 1,000 miles away. Bud and Mary Wilkinson took care of their babyduring their absence.
"They justmoved the baby—crib and all—into their own house for a week," theappreciative mother reported. "They're always doing nice things likethat."
Wilkinson's ownmother died when he was small. "But my brother Bill and I always had a warmhome environment," Wilkinson said. "Relatives lived next door to us andthey were wonderful. My father [Charles Patton Wilkinson, a prosperous mortgageloan broker! remarried when I was about 12 to a woman who's been just asperfect as it's possible for a person to be."
A graduate ofShattuck Military Academy in Faribault, Minn., Wilkinson has a Bachelor of Artsdegree from Minnesota and a Master's degree in English from Syracuse, which heearned while he was assistant coach there. In 1943 he went on active duty inthe Navy, serving on the aircraft carrier Enterprise in the Pacific.
"After thewar," he said, "I thought I'd had all I wanted of a knock-aroundprofession—and coaching is a knock-around profession—so I tried to getinterested in my father's business in Minneapolis, but I couldn't. My interestswere in coaching. Paper work bores me. I hate monotony of any kind. I signed afull-time contract at Oklahoma as assistant coach to Jim Tatum. The next year,in 1947, when Tatum went to Maryland, I got the job."
Wilkinson is nowon the fourth year of a 10-year contract. When the season is on, he seldomrelaxes, worrying generally about next Saturday's game.
"Duringfootball season, a coach hardly has time to brush his teeth," Wilkinsonsaid. "Four hours of preparation are needed for one hour of practice. Ifwe're going to use our practice to maximum value, we have to know what we'regoing to do every minute. If we're ever strategists, it's during the summer. Wemust decide then exactly what we're going to do so that when fall practicestarts, we're teaching ball. How much football we as coaches know will have nobearing on a single game. It's the skill and knowledge we're able to impart toour players that counts. The game is won or lost by the players—not thecoaches.
"We gradeour players by their performance. Two or three nights a week, we study the filmof the previous week's game or our practice films. Each coach looks at one manonly, and we have to go through the film twice on offense and then twice ondefense. One of us catches the extra man.
"If the boydoes what we consider normal, he gets zero. If he does an outstanding job, hegets one point. If he knows his assignment and tries to do the right thing anddoesn't or isn't successful, he gets minus-one. If he doesn't know what to do,he gets a minus-two. He gets a plus-two if he does a super job that no ordinaryman could ever do with ordinary effort.
"Forinstance, we had a fullback named Leon Heath [All-American, 1950]. In a gameagainst Nebraska, Heath was supposed to block the end. He went out to block theend, and the end was so far across the line of scrimmage that Heath shoulderedhim out of the play. Then the ball-carrier, Billy Vessels [All-American, 1952and winner of the Heisman Memorial Trophy], cut inside. Vessels avoided thetackle and while maneuvering, slowed up enough to let Heath move back in frontof him and block the line-backer.
"This blockbroke Vessels clean past the line of scrimmage. He ran about 30 yards andappeared to be hemmed in against the side lines by the defensive halfback onthe Nebraska 16-yard line, when Heath once again, with an amazing burst ofspeed, cut across the field at the proper angle and blocked the remainingNebraska defender.
"Heath'sassignment, for which he would have got zero, was to block the end out,"Wilkinson explained. "In addition, he blocked the line-backer and thedefensive halfback, and, what is most amazing, ran a total distance ofapproximately 85 yards between the blocks."
The memory ofthe play delighted Wilkinson still. "That's what you've got to do to getplus-two," he said. "It was a helluva play.
"Football isa demanding game physically," he went on, "but I don't believe it's adangerous game in any way. A lot of people take violent exception to that. Ithink the chances of a boy's receiving a permanent injury in well-administeredfootball are virtually nonexistent."
"There mustbe a great deal of rest between games. Your team must be built prior to thetime you play your first game, which in our case this year' is 2:00 p.m.,Saturday afternoon, September 24th at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Some playerscome back from summer vacation with the thought they're going to learn theirfootball after practice starts. That's no good. The ones who've developed themental toughness necessary to be a good football player paid a greater price inconditioning during the summer. They lived the way an athlete has to live priorto the game. A boy who stays up to 2:00 in the morning three weeks before thegame probably has not hurt his physical condition at all, but he's put a dentin his mental armor, so to speak.
"When you'rein a game, you may play 12 minutes or 46 minutes, but somewhere the dike beginsto crack. If a player hasn't conditioned himself previously, he'll probably nothave the fortitude or courage—football won't mean enough to him—to recover apunt when he's tired and it's 96° on the playing field.
" 'There are11 fights out there,' I tell my men, 'we've got to win seven of them.'
"Wearing 13pounds of equipment and with only 25 seconds between plays, they've got toequal the speed of a lightly garbed sprinter who has his own lane to run inwithout any interference, and has maybe 20 to 25 minutes to recuperate beforethe next lap.... That's why I think running is the most often overlookedfundamental of the game.
"There areother important factors, of course. If I am a lineman, my opponent may weighsomewhere in the neighborhood of 200 pounds. He's approximately 18 inches awayfrom me. He's well conditioned, full of moxie and determination, and he'sdynamite. If I'm successful in moving that huge man out of the way, somebody isgoing to carry 13 ounces of air surrounded by pigskin through the hole I madeand the spectators and the sports pages will sing the praises of only the guywho happened to be carrying the air.... There aren't enough heroic positions ona football team to have people play because they want to be a hero. Themajority play because they love the game.
" 'Find youropponent's weakness and exploit it!' I keep telling my men. 'Every player has aweakness!' And if you're smaller, you have to think bigger. The fact our menbelieve they can use their brains to defeat a physically superior opponent paysdividends you can't reckon with—they're so great.
"It takes aman to play defense. We say anybody can play offense but it takes a man to playdefense. You must have a few linemen who are big enough to defend the center ofyour line. You must have people in the secondary, the containing portion of thedefense, who have speed enough to keep the play always inside of them and infront of them. Football is a game of movement, 100 %. It's a series ofone-punch rounds. It's like everybody comes out to throw one punch because theoffensive will snap the ball and run the play. It's the question of who makesthe correct decision and who makes the bad decision, and they might both makethe perfect decision, then you get into the area of which is the betterfootball team. If our team will block better and tackle better and run better,we'll have a good chance of winning, if we don't make mistakes.... In footballmost teams defeat themselves. If we never get a penalty, if we never get a passintercepted, if we never fumble and always try to execute our assignment, we'llprobably win. We should be able to control all of those things il ourorganization and practice and preparation are adequate—with the possibleexception of the fumble.... An intercepted pass will defeat you right now. Ithas a shock element.... Running is the most important fundamental there is;balance footwork, agility, quickness, reflexes, reactions.... Everything you'regoing to do is based on trying to defeat the clock. You must have an effectiveoffense and a stout defense and they must be able to handle the kicking game inall of its ramifications. The kicking game provides the margin of winning orlosing in most close contests more often than any of the other factors.Kickoffs, kickoff returns, punting, punt coverage, punt returns, block kickplays, field goals and points after touchdowns.
"All thishas to be taught and learned within the limited time allowed for footballpractice. There's no limit on practice in any other sport exceptbasketball," Wilkinson said almost ruefully.
"Accordingto the rules now," he said, "we're permitted 40 hours of practice inthe spring. In the fall, we start about September 1st and many people areplaying their first game September 17th, so you have about 15 practice daysbecause you can't really practice the day before the game. Our season is onlynine weeks. Yet baseball teams play 154 games during the summer, and they havesix weeks of spring training."
A member of therules committee of the National Football Coaches Association and also on itsboard, Wilkinson feels strongly about this subject. "It is my consideredbelief, " he said, "that the practice rules put in with the thought ofcontrolling the activities of the coach in helping to keep football andbasketball within the bounds of propriety, magnify the problems instead ofsolve them.
"With notenough practice time allotted, you've got only one outlet left; that's gorecruit the boy who already can do it. If you had more practice time, you'dhave a chance of bridging the gap between talent and ordinary ability plus agreat desire. Then recruiting would not be as important as it is and the coachwould be able to do what he was hired to do; what he enjoys doing and what hederives satisfaction from—and that's teaching boys to play football.
"There's alot of difference between that and going to the parents of a boy and askingthem why don't they enroll their son in your school. Most people feel that afootball coach in looking for candidates for his team is trying to find thebest athletes available from a physical standpoint. It's absolutely true wehave to have athletic ability. You can't deny that or belittle it, but I amtotally of the opinion that because football is a morale game, because it isprimarily a game of the heart, and I don't mean to sound sentimental, I believeyou must first find a boy of character, a boy who first must be a good enoughcollege student to do college work without undue difficulty, and to be able tograduate from college. If he doesn't have that much academic ability, hedoesn't belong in college, that's all there is to it. I believe collegeathletics are for college students. Most people don't believe coaches feel thatway. But they do.
"Footballplayers are criticized and chewed on all the time, but the competition andrecruiting in basketball for a guy who's 6-feet-7-inches tall makes footballrecruiters look like a bunch of kids in a marble game."
NOT ONLY THEBRIGHT
"Sure, wegive scholarships; I don't believe it's necessary or sound to educate onlythose people who can make straight A's in high school. A boy who's a normalstudent can be a super citizen and deserves as much opportunity as a mentalgiant with ability in just one line of endeavor. Qualities of character oftentranscend pure mental ability.
"It's true,recruiting is the number one problem in intercollegiate athletics. But I don'tthink the evils even begin to outweigh the good. Somebody's got to make alittle fight for competitive athletics.
"One of thebasic problems of our time is the super-sophistication of being a spectator anda critic instead of a participant. I'm hipped on that subject. I think it'spsychologically dangerous for young kids and adults, too, to come home everynight and turn on TV and never read and never play cards and never engage inconversation. They don't participate. They're only spectators."
Wilkinson gazedout the window, across the green-turfed square to the red brick walls of thestadium. "The man," he said, "who tried his best and failed issuperior to the man who never tried."
"A REAL NICE MANNER"
"Each kid who plays football has a dream to go toOklahoma," said Thomas Watson of McAlester, Okla., who played on O.U.'s1954 freshman team. "Bud Wilkinson is the greatest, the way he works withmen. People put out for him. It's uncanny. He stands out as a leader and acoach. He's real pleasant to speak to; he has a real pleasant voice, a realnice manner. He's tall and handsome; he's blond, maybe a little more gray thanblond. He's strict on boys staying in shape; and before he takes a man on theteam, he knows what kind of person he is and whether he can trust him. When hegives a boy a scholarship, it's not just for his football. He has to have goodgrades. I guess he thinks if a man has good morals and everything, he can be agood football player."
CHILI CON QUESO
Recipe for a hot hors d'oeuvres dip which Mary (Mrs.Bud) Wilkinson serves at her open-house gatherings after the home games inNorman, Oklahoma:
3 lbs. processed American cheese
1 lb. processed Cheddar cheese
2 onions, finely chopped
8 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 No. 2 cans of tomatoes
3 or 4 small cans of hot green peppers, chopped.
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
Melt cheese in double boiler—add other ingredientsand cook until well blended (about 30 minutes). Serve hot in chafing dish withcorn chips as dip. Can serve 100.
(Mixture can be made ahead of time and kept in deepfreeze, using portions as desired. Warm up in double boiler beforeserving.)