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AFM Magazine

Legends of the Hall

Bud Wilkinson
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With 119 chapters and over 12,000 members nationwide, The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame, a non-profit educational organization, runs programs designed to use the power of amateur football in developing scholarship, citizenship and athletic achievement in today’s young people. NFF programs include the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind., Play It Smart, the NFF Center for Youth Development Through Sport at Springfield College, the NFL/NFF Coaching Academy, and annual scholarships of nearly $1 million for college and high school scholar-athletes. Each month American Football Monthly will profile a member of the College Football Hall of Fame – our July subject is legendary Oklahoma Coach Bud Wilkinson.

1916: Born in Minneapolis

1934: Plays on first of three National Champions at Minnesota

1942: Enters the Navy

1946: Named an assistant coach at Oklahoma

1947: Becomes Sooner Head Coach

1953: Start of NCAA record of 47 straight wins

1957: Notre Dame upsets Oklahoma, 7-0,
to end streak

1957: Prentice Gautt becomes first African-American to play at Oklahoma

1963: Steps down as OU coach

1965: College football analyst for ABC

1969: Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame

1978: Becomes St. Louis Cardinals coach

1994: Dies in St. Louis at 77

Charles “Bud” Wilkinson’s career can probably be summed up in Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent’s comment on the legendary Oklahoma coach: “People talk a lot about the tradition of Oklahoma football. The person that started that tradition was Bud Wilkinson.”

In addition to his legacy in Norman, Wilkinson played on three National Championship teams, competed in the political arena, coached in the NFL, and was a successful college football television analyst. But his real achievement was his success as Oklahoma’s head coach from 1947-63. In that span, the Sooners won three National Championships, set an NCAA record by winning 47 consecutive games, and won 4 Orange and 2 Sugar Bowl games.

Born in Minneapolis in 1916, Wilkinson played both guard and quarterback for College Football Hall of Fame Coach Bernie Bierman at Minnesota and in the process won three national titles. After receiving a degree in English, he worked briefly for his father’s banking and mortgage business before deciding on coaching as a career. He was an assistant at Syracuse and Minnesota before joining the U.S. Navy in 1942. When World War II ended, new Oklahoma Coach Jim Tatum persuaded Wilkinson to join his staff in 1946.

Tatum left the next year to go to Maryland, and Wikinson – at 31-years old – became the school’s head football coach and athletic director. The Sooner dynasty took shape in the early 1950s and then reeled off the famous 47-game winning streak from 1953-1957. During one stretch – 1948-1958 – Oklahoma never lost more than two games in any season.

Wilkinson stepped down after the 1963 season having compiled an overall record of 145-29-4. While still coach he was appointed as President Kennedy’s special consultant on youth fitness in 1961.

Wilkinson barely lost a bid to the U.S. Senate in 1964 but became a network football analyst in 1965 with ABC Sports. He became a consultant to President Nixon in 1969 and came back to briefly coach the St. Louis Cardinals in 1978. Wilkinson then returned to network television as an analyst for both ABC and ESPN. After suffering a series of minor strokes in the late 1980s, Wilkinson died of congestive heart failure on February 9, 1994.

Many people remember Wilkinson as a master of preparation, an offensive genius, but also a coach ahead of his time. Prentice Gautt became the first African-American player at Oklahoma in 1956. “If it hadn’t been for Bud, there wouldn’t have been any way that I’d have made it,” said Gautt in a tribute to his former coach. “His talking and believing in me was probably the biggest thing that helped me get over even the thought of being the first black.”

To find out more about how to become a member or for more information about The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame visit or call 1-800-486-1865.


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