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Oklahoma-Texas A&M football: The man who linked Bud Wilkinson and Bear Bryant's programs

Bobby Drake Keith was a Junction Boy, and he was on Bear Bryant's first Alabama coaching staff. But he also coached for Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma. He's conflicted about the upcoming Cotton Bowl.
by Berry Tramel Published: December 23, 2012

photo - OU coaching staff, from left: Gomer Jones, unidentified, Bobby Drake Keith (third from left), unidentified, unidentified, Bud Wilkinson. PHOTO PROVIDED
OU coaching staff, from left: Gomer Jones, unidentified, Bobby Drake Keith (third from left), unidentified, unidentified, Bud Wilkinson. PHOTO PROVIDED

Texas A&M won the 1939 national championship, and the Aggies with Heisman winner Johnny Manziel might win the Cotton Bowl next week, and plenty of A&M teams have won Aggie hearts with victories over Texas.

But no A&M team is more famous than the Junction Boys. The 1956 squad that won the Southwest Conference title, after surviving Bear Bryant's brutal Junction, Texas, training camp in 1954.

Bobby Drake Keith was a Junction Boy. So much so that he followed Bryant to Alabama and was on the Bear's first Bama staff, in 1958.

But Keith also was a Bud Man. He coached for Bud Wilkinson on his last OU staff, 1963. Then Keith stayed two years on Gomer Jones' staff, took a job with OG&E, stayed 17 years and eventually retired back to Oklahoma City in 2008.

Thus Keith holds quite the distinction. The only man to coach for Bud and the Bear.

“On the surface, they were not very similar at all,” Keith said. “But if you get below the surface, they were both competitive, both winners. Both understood what it took to win.

“They just went about it in very different ways.”

Keith's analogy? Wilkinson was Cary Grant. Suave, handsome, romantic. Bryant was John Wayne. Rough, tumble, hard knocks.

“They both would always get what they were after, but they went about it in completely different ways,” Keith said.

Keith came from one of the all-time Friday Night Lights towns of Texas, Breckenridge in the early '50s, where he was a high school teammate of future Sooners Jerry Tubbs and Jakie Sandifer.

Keith went to A&M, suffered a busted nose in Bryant's first spring game, 1954, but stayed on the field for two more plays before fainting. “That's one tough (SOB),” Bryant said, according to Jim Dent's Junction Boys.

All the Junction Boys were tough. Their preseason camp is legendary for its brutality, defections and the toughness it bred into players who suffered a 1-9 season in 1954 but then went 7-2-1 in 1955 and 9-0-1 in 1956.

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by Berry Tramel
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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