NORMAN — Mike Gaddis, remembered as one of the greatest Oklahoma running backs who never was, died Monday. He was 50.
The former Carl Albert star lettered for Barry Switzer in 1988 and played two more years under Gary Gibbs. Gaddis’ statistics and 6-foot-2, 225-pound build suggested he was bound for stardom had it not been for health setbacks.
Official cause of death is unknown and funeral services are pending.
Gaddis, who after football worked in the insurance business in Oklahoma City, has battled kidney issues in previous years. He received a kidney transplant from his brother, Brent, in 2005.
Gaddis is remembered for being friendly and upbeat, but was a terror on the field when healthy. He rushed for 2,622 yards in three college seasons — 1988, 1989 and 1991 — that were shortened by injury.
He didn’t play in 1990 while rehabbing a torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered during OU-Texas in 1989. Ultimately, it kept him from becoming the player OU coaches envisioned when they feverishly tried to sway him to Norman.
Former OU assistant Bobby Proctor, who was responsible for recruiting Gaddis, was told the night before signing day that Southern Cal coaches were in Midwest City making their final pitch.
“One afternoon I get a phone call from a guy I went to school with at Midwest City,” Proctor said. “He said ‘Coach, you need to get over here. USC is in here and I think you need to come and make your last shot. So, I got Scotty [Hill] and said let’s go. Scotty takes [Gaddis] and goes into one of the classrooms for about an hour telling him about what we’re gonna do. We leave the school and we feel good.”
Gaddis and Carl Albert were playing a basketball game that night at Guthrie. Proctor loaded up and made the trip because he heard USC’s coaches would be there, and they were. Proctor sat a row behind them.
“The game’s over,” Proctor said, “I go to his coach and said, ‘You’re going to take him right home?’ And he was and I said good. I said, just tell him that I’ll be at his house when he get home. I check into a motel down there about a mile away from his house. I go to his house and his mom opens the door and starts talking and visiting. We’re all talking and about 20-30 minutes later he comes in and we’re sitting there, she’d fixed us some bologna sandwiches and Kool-Aid and we talked until 11 o’ clock.”
Proctor left, but not before promising another meeting the following day — signing day. He arranged to come by around 6:30 a.m. to make one last effort. Switzer had wanted Gaddis badly; Proctor got back to his hotel and asked that his wife call him at 6 a.m. to make sure he was awake.
“I didn’t want that USC bunch to come in before me that morning,” Proctor said. “So I wake up and I go back to his house, his brother comes to the door and I walk in casually and say, ‘Where’s Mike?’ He says, ‘He’s gone to school. He wanted to turn in his lesson plan.’”
Proctor feared the worst, that Gaddis had blown off their meeting.
“I’m thinking, God almighty, Switzer will fire my ass if I’ve let him slip out the door. I’m thinking USC’s got him,” Proctor said. “So I sat on the couch and visited. I hear this old truck coming up the driveway and it’s pumping, here it comes. The janitor had brought [Gaddis] back. I got to talking with him and his mom, and said let’s settle this thing right now. Let’s sign him right up. Let’s do it. And she said ‘Let’s do it.’ They signed.
“He was a kid, great player and just a great guy. I talked to him just 4-5 months ago. He’d been a guy who hadn’t been around the program a lot. Other than that, a great kid, a great person, great family.”
In ’88, Gaddis nearly matched Heisman Trophy winner and Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders’ performance in one of the Bedlam series’ most epic games. Sanders compiled 215 yards and 2 touchdowns to Gaddis’ 213 yards and 2 TDs.
In ’89, Gaddis rushed for 829 yards and 10 TDs in just a little more than five games, until the torn ACL against Texas set off a string of injuries that abbreviated his playing days.
He was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the sixth round, but another knee injury kept him out his rookie season and he never played in the NFL.
OU co-offensive coordinator Cale Gundy attended Midwest City High School before becoming Gaddis’ teammate with the Sooners. Everyone knew Gaddis’ name in the area.
“Mike was just one of the nicest guys. Always had a smile on his face. Just real easy, relaxed. He called me 'Quarterback.' That was my name,” Gundy said. “You hear, 'Quarterback,' you turn around and there was Mike, just had a smile on his face. A great teammate. A great person and gonna be missed.”
As for on the playing field, Gundy saw what others did.
“First thing that comes to mind when you think of Mike as a player is smooth,” Gundy said. “Here's a guy that was 6-2, 225 pounds that could run a 4.4. He had great hands. He had unbelievable talent. As much talent as we've had around at this place, the great running backs in history we've had here, his talent matched anybody’s.”