Fairbanks back in town
A familiar face returned to Norman on Tuesday. Chuck Fairbanks. The old coach was back in town for Jack Mildren’s funeral, still looking much the same, just aged, as he did 36 years ago when he was the Oklahoma football coach.
Fairbanks turns 75 in two weeks and now splits his time between Scottsdale, Ariz., and northern Michigan, his home state. He still has a daughter who lives in Norman but says he doesn’t make it back to Oklahoma much.
Fairbanks in many ways is the forgotten coach of Sooner football. He doesn’t rank with Bennie Owen, Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer or Bob Stoops. But Fairbanks left on top; his final two seasons, OU was a combined 22-2, and overall Fairbanks was 52-15-1 in six seasons.
Yet we know very little about Fairbanks. Maybe we did back then, but I doubt it. Fairbanks seems to be a very private man. Not unpleasant. Just private. The anti-Switzer, who never met a stranger. I chatted with Fairbanks a couple of years ago in San Antonio, during Dallas Cowboys training camp when Fairbanks helped out Bill Parcells as a consultant. Yesterday, after the funeral, I told Fairbanks I wanted to call him soon and talk about some old days. He seemed neither thrilled nor worried.
Fairbanks spoke at Mildren’s funeral, joining Mildren’s two brothers and Mildren’s former business partner. Fairbanks is no ball of fire as a public speaker; Steve Owens once told me a story of how Fairbanks picked him up for a trip to Tulsa, just the two of them, and Fairbanks didn’t say a word until they reached Sapulpa.
But it was interesting to hear Fairbanks speak again. Anyone who watched the old Thursday night OU coach’s show — it was a Channel 4 staple for many years — remembered the same voice tone.
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