Oklahoma Panhandle State's offensive linemen piled into two well-used, 16-passenger vans and departed on a 12-hour journey for an Oct. 21, 1995 game at Iowa Wesleyan.
Chauffeuring one of the off-white “hog vans” was 23-year-old assistant coach Bill Bedenbaugh, who just figured such menial tasks were part of any college football coach's job description.
Bedenbaugh also mopped the weight room floor, cut the grass, lined the field and assembled equipment during his one season as offensive line coach at the small university in Goodwell, an Oklahoma outpost located 300 miles northwest of the college football mecca where he'll work in 2013.
“He's gone from driving the van to Wesleyan to riding on the charter plane to Notre Dame,” said then-OPSU head coach Rick Haasl, who gave Bedenbaugh his first job nearly 18 years ago.
“That is so cool. My goodness.”
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops hired Bedenbaugh in February to toughen up the Sooners' offensive line and enhance recruiting at those positions.
The new OU assistant has coached linemen all over the country, but perhaps nothing better illustrates Bedenbaugh's attitude, work ethic and coaching ability than the story of his year in the Oklahoma Panhandle.
“It humbles you,” said Fred Chain, a freshman offensive tackle on the Aggies' 1995 squad. “You have to work harder at a place like that. Nobody gave anything to us, and nobody gave anything to him.
“Everybody that went through there is somebody special because they made it out of there. They took a chance to go to the middle of nowhere.”
Bedenbaugh had just graduated from Iowa Wesleyan in the summer of 1995 when he got a call from Pat Poore, his last head coach who'd just taken a job as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma Panhandle State.
“I was actually probably about to go be a high-school coach and go that route, and about a week or so before the fall season started, he called and asked if I wanted to do it,” Bedenbaugh remembered.
There was no interview and very little time to think about it. So Bedenbaugh jumped on a plane to Amarillo, Texas, then drove two hours north on U.S. Highway 287 to Goodwell to accept the position.
For Bedenbaugh, who was born in Philadelphia and lived in suburbs of Houston and Chicago growing up, the scenery wasn't anything he was used to.
“Along the way, it was nothing that I had really experienced,” Bedenbaugh said. “I didn't see a whole bunch.”
Ditto for when he arrived in Goodwell, a tiny town with a population just north of 1,000, not much housing available and very little entertainment.
Bedenbaugh lived in the OPSU dorms just like a student, which actually became quite helpful as he found unique ways to connect with his players.
“He was one of us in a lot of ways,” said Frank Beede, a senior left guard that year.
One of the things about Bedenbaugh that immediately impressed Haasl, though, was the young coach's ability to keep things professional with his players, many of whom were around the same age.
“He could command their respect and still be close enough to communicate and motivate them at the same time,” Haasl said. “That's something you expect more from a coach as they get more seasoned. He had it at a young age.”
Bedenbaugh became more than a friend and coach, though, to Beede, who also spent just the 1995 season in Goodwell.
Beede started on California's offensive line the previous two seasons, but was dismissed from the team the summer before his senior season after reportedly testing positive for steroids.
He transferred to Oklahoma Panhandle State, and after some early struggles in his new atmosphere, he learned to flourish in it.
“I was in a really dark time in my life that year,” Beede said. “Coming to OPSU and having Coach Bedenbaugh to support me and rebuild my confidence, that's what I attribute to him and Coach Haasl. They really helped me get back on my feet and allowed me to continue on and do everything I did.”
What Beede did was sign with the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent, make the roster and enjoy a four-year NFL career. Today, he's a history teacher and offensive line coach at Freedom High School in Oakley, Calif.
Beede was honored as the NFL Teacher of the Year in August 2010.
“We'd just talk about life,” Beede said of his relationship with Bedenbaugh. “He was really a down-to-earth kind of guy, someone you could really open up to.”
OPSU went 6-4 in 1994, but was bumped up from NAIA Division II to Division I before the 1995 season.
The result? A team Haasl genuinely felt was better without the record to show it. The Aggies went 1-9 in Bedenbaugh's lone season.
The single victory came at Bedenbaugh's alma mater on that long, memorable road trip.
Bedenbaugh left after the 1995 season to join Hal Mumme and Mike Leach — his first head coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, at Iowa Wesleyan — on the Valdosta State staff.
After stops at Central Michigan, Ferris State, Texas Tech, Arizona and West Virginia, Bedenbaugh landed in Norman, completing a 300-mile journey that took just under 18 years.
“In my opinion, when you see a unique story like Bill's, there needs to be a unique individual that creates it,” said Haasl, who left coaching in 2005 and is now an instructor and academic adviser at West Texas A&M.
“Everything that needed to be done — whether it was mowing or marking field or putting together equipment — Bill was right there in the middle of it. Nothing was ever beneath Bill.”
Not even driving an old van full of linemen more than 700 miles for a game.
Asked if he ever, at any point, regretted taking the OPSU job, Bedenbaugh responded, “No. Not for one second. ... I've been very fortunate, but that was quite honestly one of the better things that has happened to me. It just really solidified that coaching was what I wanted to do with my life.”
The Bill Bedenbaugh file
Position: Oklahoma offensive line coach
High school: St. Charles (Ill.) High School
College: Graduated in 1995 with his bachelor's degree from Iowa Wesleyan, where he was a four-year starter on the offensive line. Earned a master's degree in 2001 from Texas Tech.
1995: Panhandle State, offensive line
1996: Valdosta State, offensive line
1997-98: Central Michigan, graduate assistant
1999: Ferris State, offensive line/running game coordinator
2000-02: Texas Tech, graduate assistant
2003-04: Texas Tech, running backs
2005-06: Texas Tech, offensive line
2007-09: Arizona, offensive line/running game coordinator
2010: Arizona, co-offensive coordinator/offensive line
2011-12: West Virginia, offensive line