STILLWATER — Phil Cutchin addressed his Oklahoma State football players in January 1963 for the first time, having just been hired off Bear Bryant's Alabama staff.
“I'll never forget it,” said Walt Garrison, a tough Cowboy fullback who had just finished his freshman season. Cutchin told the squad, “A lot of you guys here don't want to be football players. You think you do, but you don't. I'm going to find out.”
The guys who wanted to be football players? You can find them still, particularly this weekend in Tucson, Ariz., staging a reunion of Cutchin survivors.
Jim Click, a center on those OSU teams and a 40-year successful car dealer in Tucson, is hosting his teammates in conjunction with the OSU-Arizona game, which matches Click's alma mater against the university he's supported with tens of millions of dollars in donations.
Click invited his teammates out, and as many as 50 or 60 are coming. Get themselves to Tucson, Click said, and he'd take care of the rest. Hotel. Golf. Dinners. Game tickets. And truth is, Click is paying for the flights of a few teammates who couldn't afford it.
The 1960s Cowboys have a special bond. Garrison, the great old Dallas Cowboy fullback, says nothing brings people together like strife and stress. And Phil Cutchin certainly provided strife and stress.
“There's a bond that's formed over four years that will never be broken,” Garrison said.
The stories are legendary of Cutchin's brutal practices and workouts.
You've heard of the Junction Boys? The 1954 Texas A&M football team that Bryant took to a brutal training camp in Junction, Texas? Cutchin was an assistant coach on that staff.
By 1957, those Junction survivors were seniors and won the Southwest Conference.
Cutchin was hired by OSU to revive Cowboy football, and though he didn't produce a Big Eight title, OSU did beat Oklahoma in 1965 and 1966, after having lost 19 straight Bedlam games.
The attrition in Stillwater was like the attrition at A&M.
Exact reports vary, but somewhere around 110 players were on hand for that first meeting with Cutchin in January 1963. That November, OSU played OU with 28 suited up.
Craig Kessler arrived at OSU in 1964. “I started out with 115 freshmen,” Kessler said. “It was the last year of unlimited scholarships. Four years later, there were 14 of us. I had six roommates my freshman year. It was crazy.”
Cutchin was old school in every sense of the word. A World War II infantry veteran who went back into the military during the Korean War. A guy who played for Bear Bryant at Kentucky, then coached for him at Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama.
Cutchin believed in toughness and commitment.
Rusty Martin recently told Cowboy Xpress magazine that “it wasn't anything for me to lose 12 to 15 pounds during a workout, and I wasn't fat. You wanted to make sure to drink plenty of liquids before practice, because they didn't give you water, only a bucket of salt water with a dipper so you could rinse your mouth. Our goal was survival.”
Players would leave in droves. Five, six, seven at a time, after a practice.
“He ran off a lot of players,” Garrison said. “We went through a lot of struggles, a lot of pain, a lot of disappointments, a lot of losses.”
Guys who stay through that kind of experience are drawn tight.
“We went through such a hardship when we lost so many of our friends, the ones that stuck it out, we had a bond,” Click said.
That's why he's financing the reunion.
“That's what these guys mean to Jim Click,” Click said. “Might be the last chance we all get to see one another, all at once. That was a special group of time for those players and a special time for me.”
Cutchin is not remembered fondly by all of his survivors.
“There was no relationship between players and coaches,” Kessler said. “They might as well have been 115 years old. It was much more run like a military organization.
“Cutchin, he didn't have much of a personality to me. He had a hard time making decisions. He used to wear a shirt with front pockets on both sides. He had a pack of Winstons in one, Salem in the other. We said he couldn't decide what kind of cigarette to smoke.”
But Kessler also recalls OSU's 1966 game against Arkansas.
“We went to Little Rock … 15 black guys, maybe 10 black guys on the team,” Kessler said. “We go check in at the big hotel downtown, they said the black guys couldn't stay. Cutchin said, ‘The hell with you.' We got on the bus and went to North Little Rock and stayed at the Holiday Inn. He treated everybody fair.”
Click speaks fondly of Cutchin but also reels off name after name of good football players who left OSU.
“If Phil Cutchin had it to do over again, he'd have found a way to keep those guys,” Click said. “I think Phil thought that was the way he had to get us ready.”
By 1968, Cutchin was finished. His six-year run as coach had failed to ignite OSU football. His record was 19-38-2.
But Cutchin brought in some of the greatest players in OSU history. Jon Kolb. Jerry Sherk. John Henry Ward. John Little.
“We had some good players,” Kessler said. “Just didn't have enough of 'em.”
Garrison said Cutchin accomplished what OSU needed: “Getting rid of dead weight taking up scholarships.”
But the treatment of players is what Cutchin is known for.
Before Cutchin died in 1999 at the age of 79, he attended Click's 50th birthday celebration.
Click's mother was there, too, and Cutchin told her, “Mrs. Click, I can see in your eyes, you still hate me.”
Said Mrs. Click, “I do.”
But Cutchin's old players don't hate him. They're in a way thankful, for what he provided.
Memories. Memories and a bond that will last forever, even if this weekend is the last time Cutchin's Cowboys will be together.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.
Born: Sept. 9, 1920, Mayfield, Ky.
Hometown: Murray, Ky.
College: University of Kentucky.
Military: U.S. infantry 1943-45, 1950-51.
Assistant coaching career: Ohio Wesleyan 1947-49, Kentucky 1952-53, Texas A&M 1954-57, Alabama 1958-62.
Head coaching career: Oklahoma State 1963-68 (19-38-2 record).
Died: Jan. 7, 1999, in Tulsa.