Oklahoma football: Five stories about Chuck Fairbanks

by Berry Tramel Published: April 2, 2013

Fairbanks is a forgotten figure in the integration story of OU football. While Prentice Gautt integrated the Sooners in 1957, out of that same Douglass High School, and Barry Switzer filled his roster with black players in the 1970s, Fairbanks played no small role in OU taking a leading role in integrating a major football power south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Leon Cross, who played at OU for Bud Wilkinson and was an assistant coach for Fairbanks, says Fairbanks played a major role in relieving some of the stress of integration.

“Some coaches had never coached black kids,” Cross said. “But Chuck was from Michigan. Even played with some black guys at Michigan State. Chuck was very good to have here at that time. He was familiar with black kids and some of their problems. He educated the rest of the staff.

“Of course, Barry Switzer, his background, raised with black people, appreciated them, too. But Jim Mackenzie (OU's head coach in 1966) had never been around black kids, either. (Defensive coordinator) Pat James was an old Bear Bryant guy. We were very fortunate to have Chuck. Not that we wouldn't have made it fine with Jim. But (having Fairbanks) was very educational for the other people on the staff.”

Hamilton went on to play for Fairbanks with the Sooners and the New England Patriots. He was a nine-year NFL veteran and is in his 27th season as an NFL assistant coach. Hamilton is the Atlanta Falcons' defensive line coach.

Fairbanks, Hamilton said, “was the closest thing guys could come and talk to like a big brother or a father. Always tried to help players. Very sensitive to players' needs and wants.”

TALENT EVALUATOR

Chuck Fairbanks had a nose for football talent. When Fairbanks took the New England Patriots' coaching job in 1973, he left Barry Switzer one of the best rosters in college football history. Three Selmon brothers. Joe Washington. Rod Shoate. Randy Hughes. Tinker Owens. Three offensive linemen who would make All-American in either '73 or '74 (Kyle Davis, John Roush, Eddie Foster).

But Fairbanks' nose for talent extended to the NFL. Running the Patriots' personnel, Fairbanks quickly stocked a moribund franchise. Highlights of his New England drafts:

* 1973: John Hannah, considered perhaps the greatest offensive lineman in NFL history; stalwart fullback Sam Cunningham; and talented flanker Darryl Stingley, whose career would be cut short by paralysis from an infamous hit; and Raymond Hamilton, who spent nine seasons in the NFL.

* 1974: linebacker Steve Nelson, a second-rounder who became a Patriot icon, playing 14 seasons.

* 1975: Tight end Russ Francis, who had 40 career touchdown catches, and quarterback Steve Grogan (in the fifth round), who played 16 years for the Patriots and was 75-60 as a starter.

* 1976: Hall of Fame defensive back Mike Haynes and DB Tim Fox, who played 11 NFL seasons and had 26 career interceptions.

* 1977: Defensive back Raymond Clayborn, who played 15 NFL seasons and had 36 interceptions; and receiver Stanley Morgan, who played 14 years and had 557 career catches.

* 1978: Special teams star Mosi Tatupu, who was drafted in the eighth round but played 14 seasons with New England.

“Always had a real good eye for talent,” Hamilton said. “He came to the pros, he did the same thing.”

Fairbanks was 46-39 in six New England seasons, made the playoffs twice and in 1978 led the Patriots to their first division title since 1963. But Fairbanks was suspended for the final game of the regular season after Patriots president Billy Sullivan discovered Fairbanks had been negotiating with the University of Colorado. Fairbanks was reinstated for the playoffs, but New England lost to Houston 31-14.


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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