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Oklahoma football: More on Bobby Drake Keith

by Berry Tramel Published: December 24, 2012

I wrote about Bobby Drake Keith for my Monday column. Keith holds the distinction of being the only man to coach on the staffs of both Bear Bryant (at Alabama) and Bud Wilkinson (at OU). You can read the Keith column here.

But Keith’s lasting football legacy was being a Junction Boy, one of the survivors of Bryant’s brutal 1954 training camp in Junction, Texas, which has become the stuff of legend. Jim Dent wrote a bestselling book about the Junction Boys, and ESPN turned it into a movie. The Junction Boys went from 1-9 in 1954 to undefeated Southwest Conference champs in 1956.

Here are a few leftovers that didn’t make my column:

* Bryant’s Junction staff of 1954 included three assistant coaches who resonate well in Oklahoma.

1. Phil Cutchin. He became OSU’s head coach in 1963, went 19-38-2 over six seasons and memorably beat OU in back-to-back one-point games, OSU’s only Bedlam wins between 1945 and 1976.

But Cutchin is mostly known for Junction-style training camps in which legions of players were run off. I wrote about Cutchin’s players in September. You can read that here.

2. Jim Owens. The 1949 OU all-American end from ClassenHigh School hooked on with Bryant’s staff at Kentucky in 1951 and followed him to A&M.

Owens stayed three seasons, including the ’56 Southwest Conference champion team, then replaced his old pal, former OU teammate Darrell Royal, at Washington, when Royal became head coach at Texas.

Owens coached UW 18 seasons and went to three Rose Bowls.

3. Pat James. The crusty Bryant disciple played for the Bear at Kentucky, followed him to A&M and on to Alabama. Eventually, James followed another Kentuckian, Jim Mackenzie, to OU in 1966 to help rebuild the Sooners.

When Mackenzie died of a heart attack in April 1967, James was assistant head coach. Some on the staff hoped James would be elevated to head coach. Instead, president George Lynn Cross promoted the younger Chuck Fairbanks. James remained on staff and coordinated the defense of the 1967 Big Eight champion Sooners.

* When A&M played at Alabama in November, Paul Bryant Jr., who lives in Tuscaloosa, and the Bama athletic department hosted a reception and weekend full of activities for the Bear’s former Aggie players.

Alabama’s 13-year athletic director, Mal Moore, was a Bama player when Keith coached there, 1958-59 and 1962.

“Wonderful reception,” Keith said.

Sounds a lot like the OU-Nebraska celebration of 2008, when the Sooners hosted veterans of the 1971 Game of the Century.

“A lot of Alabama people were very cordial, very gracious,” Keith said. “Same way after the game.”

A&M upset Alabama.

* Half a century ago, college coaching did not have the exalted status it does today.

Keith got a double degree at A&M, petroleum engineering and geology. But the oil business “was in the pits in the late ’50s,” he said. “I got one job offer, which I didn’t want.”

Keith was a 1956 A&M senior. He spent 1957, finishing up his degrees. That was Bryant’s final season at A&M.

When Bryant got the Alabama job, Bum Phillips, who was on the 1957 A&M staff, did not go to Tuscaloosa with the Bear.

“He was going down to JacksonvilleHigh School,” Keith said. “He said, ‘if you enjoy coaching, come go with me.’ Two days later, I got a call at my apartment. It was Bryant. He said, ‘I hear you’re going into coaching.’ He said, ‘Well, I don’t think you ought to do that, but if you’re going into coaching, I got a better deal.’”

So Keith went to Alabama.

* Texas A&M in the 1950s was not the school it is today. A&M didn’t go coed until 1964. Membership in the military Corps of Cadets was mandatory until 1965.

“It was an all-military school,” Keith said. “There were those that were 4-F (injured) or they were veterans. But there were no ladies. Everybody else was in the military. There were pluses and minuses to that.

“It was good for what I went to school for, get an education and play ball. Just a lot of good opportunities there.

“I was in favor of bringing the females into school. It’s made A&M into a true university it was never known as before.”


by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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