NORMAN — Oklahoma officials confirmed that former Sooner football coach Chuck Fairbanks, 79, died Tuesday morning after a battle with brain cancer.
“Coach fought a hard battle. He was a great coach and like a second father to me,” former OU running back and 1969 Heisman Trophy winner Steve Owens said Tuesday. “He taught me so much on the field, but he prepared me for life after football, which I always appreciated. He was tough on us but fair. I couldn’t have had a better coach.”
Fairbanks had a distinguished coaching career in both the college and professional ranks. His most successful stint was as head coach at OU from 1967-72.
During his six seasons, the Sooners won three Big Eight Conference titles (1967, 1968 and 1972) while compiling a 52-15-1 overall record and a 33-6 mark in the conference.
Fairbanks originally came to OU as a defensive assistant under head coach Jim Mackenzie prior to the 1965 season. Mackenzie died prior to the 1967 season and Fairbanks was elevated to head coach.
“From the moment he took the job, there was no question he was head coach. He was so organized and so professional. He took that team and made us Big Eight champions,” Owens said. “I think we were picked to finish fourth or fifth and we won the championship and had a chance to win the national championship that year. The thing about Coach was he was a hard coach. He pushed us hard, but he was so fair.”
Fairbanks’ lasting legacy at OU was the installation of the wishbone offense during the 1970 season under then-offensive coordinator Barry Switzer. The offense helped fuel the Sooners’ dominance throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
His last two teams at OU went a combined 22-2 and were some of the best in the program’s history. The Sooners only loss in 1971 was to top-ranked Nebraska in the “Game of the Century” at Owen Field. Both the 1971 and 1972 teams finished No. 2 in the final rankings.