His place in Oklahoma and national college football history guaranteed many years ago, Bud Wilkinson's image still casts a giant shadow. He would have been 98 years old on April 23.
Born in 1916 in Minneapolis, Charles Burnham "Bud" Wilkinson was an outstanding athlete at an early age. By the time he entered the University of Minnesota, he was a standout football player, He and his Golden Gopher teammates won three consecutive national championships, 1934-36.
Coaching stints at Syracuse, Minnesota and Iowa Pre-Flight preceded his legendary tenure at the University of Oklahoma, where his teams made history. While he was head coach between 1947 and 1963, the Sooners won three national titles, 14 conference championships, established a 74-game unbeaten conference string, were 145-29-4 overall and set a national mark that still stands today: 47 straight wins.
He and the man he succeeded as the OU head coach, Jim Tatum, were credited with installing the Split-T formation in the Sooner offense that churned up yardage and opponents alike for years.
So successful was Wilkinson as a coach and leader that he was selected by John F. Kennedy to servce on the President's Council on Physical Fitness, which Bud did from 1961-64. After Wilkinson resigned as OU coach in 1964, he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. It was one of the few losses he endured.
In 1965, he became a color analyst with ABC Sports and was part of the broadcast team that handled three games of the century , including Notre Dame at Michigan State in 1966 (a 10-10 tie), Texas at Arkansas in 1969 (won by Texas, 15-14) and Nebraska at Oklahoma in 1971 (a Nebraska win, 35-31).
During his time at OU, there were other firsts, including Prentice Gautt becoming the first black football player at the school and Billy Vessels becoming the first Heisman Trophy winner for the Sooners.
Wilkinson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1969.
For two years, 1978 and 1979, Bud coached the St. Louis Cardinals in the National Football League. His teams went a combined 9-20.
Wilkinson died Feb. 9, 1994, in St. Louis at age 77 after a lengthy illness.