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Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma football: Chuck Fairbanks’ profound effect on the Patriots

by Berry Tramel Modified: April 4, 2013 at 12:10 pm •  Published: April 3, 2013

Here in Oklahoma, I don’t think we realized Fairbanks’ impact on the NFL and the Patriots. But Fairbanks spent almost as many seasons with New England (six) as he did with OU (seven), including the same amount as head coach, and he coached more games with the Patriots (87) than he did with the Sooners (68).

And Fairbanks brought the 5-2 defense to the NFL in 1973, he or somebody named it the 3-4 so it wouldn’t sound so collegiate, and it’s a defense still in use today by a variety of teams. Fairbanks’ impact on college football is widely known; here is my column from the Wednesday Oklahoman. 

After Fairbanks’ death Tuesday, the Patriots issued a comment from team owner Robert Kraft and also found two old quotes from New England coach Bill Belichick about Fairbanks. Here they are.

Belichick in 2012, during a press conference after it was learned that Fairbanks had brain cancer and was undergoing surgery: “On behalf of the team, players, myself, we want to pass along our best wishes to Chuck Fairbanks. Chuck is headed into some surgery today. I just want to pass along our best wishes to Chuck and his family. Chuck has been a good friend for a long time and he’s meant a lot to this organization. Really, at the time he came here, he did a great job in turning the Patriots around, making them into one of the top teams in the AFC. Also, some of the things he brought to the Patriots and the league in the ‘70s were things that stood the test of time and have been a big principle of this league for many, many years and the disciples and the people that were with him, such as the 3-4 defense, the way he organized the draft, personnel meetings, things like that and some of the great coaches that were here under Chuck.”

Belichick in 2007, after Fairbanks visited Patriot headquarters and spoke to the team: “He talked to the team about the support that he had for the team and the organization, and a little bit about the challenges that lay ahead and how important every player and every game and every little thing is, and not to take it for granted — things along those lines.

“But, you know, Chuck really is a great football coach. He had tremendous success at Oklahoma and of course he came here and for six years built this team into one of the best teams in the National Football League and acquired, in my opinion, talent that was…it was really a rare acquisition of talent. I mean, not only did he get it between ’73 and ’78, but then the core of that team was really the core of the Super Bowl team in ’85. And we can rattle off all of the names, but there’s a lot of good football players in that ’73-’78 era. And I’m not even talking about guys like Leon Gray, that he picked up off waivers, and people like that in addition to all of the No. 1 draft choices, the (Russ) Francises, the (John) Hannahs and the (Darryl) Stingleys, (Raymond) Clayborn and all of those guys, too. It’s pretty remarkable what he did from a talent standpoint here, and he also put together a tremendous coaching staff, which all of those guys went on, really, to be head coaches, coordinators and have a lot of success in their own right from Red Miller on offense and (Ray) Perkins, of course, (Ron) Erhardt, (John) Poloncheck on the defensive side of the ball, Hank Bullough and Rollie Dotsch, Larry Weaver – all of those guys went on to be head coaches or coordinators or both, and were very, very successful.

“Then when you go back to Oklahoma, you look at the talent that he assembled there which was, as I told the players yesterday, when he was at Oklahoma he had six players, six backs, at Oklahoma that gained 1,000 yards in the National Football League — on one team. Two of those guys played defense because they couldn’t play. Now, some of them were freshmen, you know, but still. Six guys who gain 1,000 yards in the NFL on one team is pretty remarkable. We had one of those when I was at Detroit, Dexter Bussey. He was a tremendous back. He never played at Oklahoma, and he was a good football player — a real good football player, and a good back, but, you know, you have Greg Pruitt. So, I think what Chuck did in terms of personnel and the way he structured the personnel and the scouting system and so forth that he put together with Bucko (Kilroy) when he was here is still essentially the system that we use and frankly a lot of other teams — Dick Steinberg and his disciples and so forth, that’s spread through the league.

“I think Chuck has had a tremendous influence on the league as well as this organization in terms of nomenclature and terminology and those kinds of things. I’m sure Chuck could walk in and look at our playbook and probably 80 percent of the plays are the same terminology that he used – whether it be formations or coverages or pass protections. We were sitting there talking yesterday and he was saying, ‘How much 60 protection are you guys using? How much 80 are you using?’ All of the stuff that was really the fundamentals of his system are still in place here even, again, to the way we call formations and plays and coverages and some of our individual calls within a call, a certain adjustment or things that Red and Hank and Ron and those guys used when they were here.

“Of course that system followed obviously when Perkins came to New York in ’79. He brought that to the Giants and that was our system at the Giants. Bill (Parcells), who was here in ’80 but then took that system with Ray when he came in ’81 to the Giants. Of course, Bill took that through the league, whether it was to the Jets or back here or whatever. A lot of us, like Charlie and myself and Romeo that were in that system with Perkins and then when Bill joined it again … that system has kind of filtered it’s way into other organizations and other systems.

“Chuck and I have never worked together. We really have a lot of connections and there’s a lot of things that I’ve learned from Chuck from a distance – watching him do it and then again being involved in his system, both the personnel system, which is exceptional and the football system which itself is a very comprehensive system. He’s a great football coach. He did a lot for this organization and he did a lot for the National Football League. He did a lot for college football. So, it was good to have him here.”

 

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
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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