Jay O'Neal grew up in Ada, quarterbacked the Cougars to the 1952 state championship and was The Oklahoman's first ever Back of the Year. Then he went to OU and spent three years as the backup quarterback, 1954-56, and never lost a game. O'Neal coached for awhile, then entered the early days of the cable television business.
Ada was what I call Happy Days. I was 15 in 1950. So I'd be 25 in 1960. That's your growing-up age. Small town America. Rode a bicycle everywhere. Wasn't a lot of TV, so you did a lot of stuff outside. We played sandlot baseball and sandlot football. It was a Happy Days experience. Good town. Still had a downtown, before Wal-Mart wiped out most of the small town downtown area. Movie theaters. Always went to the movie on the weekends.
For me, the late '40s, I was 10, 12, 13, going to high school games and going to the college games, didn't have TV to watch football, so you listened on the radio. It was an idyllic experience. People didn't worry about somebody being kidnapped. It was a wonderful experience.
Extremely blessed to be there at those times. Looking back at Ada, Elvan George, like most everybody in the '40s, was running the single wing and the double wing. The short punts. Of course, coach (Bud) Wilkinson came along and at OU in '46, started developing what became known as the split-T.
The T formation had been around for awhile. I guess the Bears had run it. But most of it was foot to foot for the linemen. Don Faurot is the one that came up with splitting the line, to spread the defense. Bud not only split the linemen to split the defense, but he was smart enough to realize, if they were going with you, move them in when you're running outside and move them out when you're running inside.
My coach in Ada in 1950, went up to OU at spring practice. Elvan got up there, he was a real detailed guy. He studied what they were doing. He brought that down to Ada for the 1950 season, and my brother Pat was the quarterback, what we could handle at the high school age. Bud used to send out letters in the summer to his players. He'd send them to my brother, and I'd read 'em. I knew pretty much everything about our offense. What they want you to run.
For me, that was a break that that all happened. Gave me a chance to go OU. In 1953, freshmen weren't eligible. Didn't have a limit on scholarships. Can't remember how many freshmen there were, 50 something scholarship players. Freshmen group turned out to be a classic group of players. We had two games. Tulsa and Oklahoma A&M. Worked out all year and got to play two games. Spent most of our time working out the varsity.
For some reason, the varsity was down in numbers. Must have been the Korean War. So the practice, it was still football, although we had our separate team. For me, it was a real eye opener. I think there was seven freshman quarterbacks on scholarship. I thought, man, this is going to be tough.
Texas was the only game they took freshmen out of town to. We got to ride the bus to Dallas and sit in the Cotton Bowl. My eyes were big as saucers. It was a great game, OU won, I think it was 19-14. And that was the first win of the (47-game) streak. Then OU went ahead and won the rest of the season. Represented the Big Seven in the Orange Bowl.
Some of us had to stay and work out with the varsity. The last day of practice before the team broke to go home for Christmas, we scrimmaged. We stopped 'em three times. I'll never forget, Tommy McDonald, he kind of said what he thought. The varsity was over there in the huddle. He said, “Hey, coach, maybe you better take us to the bowl game.” I think he got their attention, because the next 15 or 20 minutes they kicked the hell out of us.
They created the (single platoon) rule in 1953. Wanted to cut down the expense of football programs. Very limited substitution rule. Basically said if you started a quarter, you could come out and go back in once. But if you didn't start the quarter, and you went in and came out, you couldn't come back in. So you couldn't have any kinds of specialists.
Bud just came up and said, OK, we're going to create two teams. One will play the first half of the quarter. Two teams as equally as you could get 'em. We had enough players to do that. It was pretty much a split deal. Just depended on how the game broke on when he put the next guys in.
You only had a travel squad of 36 in the conference. And sometimes, if that first bunch was out there and someone got nicked, they might reach to that third guy, so they could keep the second unit the way it was structured. It worked out very well.
We (second unit) felt like we could play with anybody. In fact, when we got prepared to go for the bowl game after the '55 season, the last day before we broke, Bud decided he was going to have a scrimmage up to a certain time. After that time was up, we were up 6-0. So they decided they better play a little longer. Tommy (McDonald) broke one and they got up 7-6. Now, we didn't have a Jerry Tubbs. We didn't have anyone who could play like Jerry. Overall, it was fairly well balanced. We really felt like, if the other team didn't substitute when we substituted, we were going to wear 'em out.
Bud was the epitome of a college coach. Very statuesque. Handsome man. Great speaker. Bud had a great relationship with Gomer (Jones, line coach). Bud was the king. And Gomer, who had so much to do with the success of that program, he could deal with all the issues that Bud didn't have to deal with.
Bud, for the time, was way ahead. Very bright. Thinking all the time. We had an advantage from that standpoint. He was a little scary for me, because he was Bud Wilkinson.
As a quarterback, we got to spend a lot of time with Bud. During the week, we had several sessions with him. He was so detailed. We had to go in there, sit across the desk from him. He had a little yellow pad, looked like a football field. He'd say, OK, Jay, it's first down on the 20, from the left side. What are you going to call? He'd have his little men set up for the defense. You became somewhat of a robot, because he worked with us so much.
When I coached with him, same thing. As a young kid, graduate assistant in '57-58, I'm thinking I'm going to be a freshman coach. He wrote me back, no, wanted me to work with the varsity. And I did. They sent me out scouting. Very, very educational.
Monday morning, part of the coaches' job, early morning meeting. You're to come in with whatever you're going to suggest to add to the offense, based on that opponent. I remember the first morning, he comes around to me. I was scared to death. “Coach, I don't have anything.” “Well,” he said, “that surprises me.” That was the only time I didn't have anything.
So it was very educational. Bud was so detailed. Coaches had to have a weeklong meeting before the season ever started. We went through everything we were going to do. Step by step. From the standpoint of coaching, he was hands on, very involved. We had a lot of coaches come through who wanted to get that on their resume, that they were at Oklahoma for a year or two. So that was constantly happening. Some of them were there unpaid. They'd stay a year or two just to find out what was going on.
Then I went in the service. Came back in 1961-65, and we got fired with Gomer. Lot of guys went different places. I thought about staying in coaching. But I thought, I'll try something else.
We were Community Antenna Television. Mostly in the rural areas. People wanted television, and only the big towns had TV stations. There was a need for some other technology to bring signals to that part of the world. We were in the early part of cable television. Sort of like the wildcat days in the oil business. Everybody scratching out, not knowing what they were doing. Everybody was out there, trying to find a town that needed television.
Football helped me. I think it was that preparation thing that was the main thing. You didn't just come off the cuff. We never lost a game because we weren't prepared. Of course, we never lost a game. But the idea was, Bud always said, you play like you practice. Repetition, repetition, repetition. That idea that you got prepared, when you went into a meeting, when you made a decision, wasn't off the cuff.