Wilkinson, Charles Burnham

Wilkinson, Charles Burnham

Wilkinson, Charles Burnham (Bud Wilkinson), 1916-94, American football coach, b. Minneapolis, Minn. He was an all-around athlete at the Univ. of Minnesota and later was assistant football coach at Syracuse Univ. and the Univ. of Minnesota before entering the U.S. Navy in 1943. He became assistant coach at the Univ. of Oklahoma in 1945 and head coach in 1947. His teams won 31 consecutive games in 1948-51, and in 1953-57 they won 47 consecutive games, the longest winning streak in modern football history. Wilkinson was College Coach of the Year in 1949, and his speedy Oklahoma teams were national champions in 1950, 1955, and 1956. From 1961 to 1964 he was head of President Kennedy's youth fitness program. He coached the professional St. Louis Cardinals (1978-79) but left after winning just 11 of 32 games.

Charles Burnham "Bud" Wilkinson was a Hall of Fame American football coach for the University of Oklahoma. He was also an American football player, broadcaster, and politician.

Early years

Wilkinson's mother died when he was seven, and his father sent him to the Shattuck Military Academy in Faribault, Minnesota, where he excelled in five sports and graduated in 1933. He enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where as a guard and quarterback for head coach Bernie Bierman, Wilkinson helped lead the Golden Gophers to three consecutive national championships from 1934-36. Following his graduation in 1937 with a degree in English, he led the College All-Stars to a 6-0 victory over the defending NFL champion Green Bay Packers in Chicago on August 31st.


Wilkinson briefly worked for his father's mortgage company, then became an assistant coach at Syracuse and later back at Minnesota.

In 1943 he joined the U.S. Navy, where he was an assistant to Don Faurot with the Iowa Pre-Flight Seahawks football team and served as a hangar deck officer on an aircraft carrier. Following World War II, new Oklahoma head coach Jim Tatum persuaded Wilkinson to join his staff in 1946. (In fact, the OU Board of Regents stipulated that Tatum make Wilkinson his top assistant, or else their offer was null and void.) After one season in Norman, Tatum left the Sooners before the 1947 season for Maryland. The 31-year-old Wilkinson was named head coach of the Sooners (and athletic director) and would soon make history.

Head Coach

In his first season of 1947, Wilkinson led Oklahoma to a 7-2-1 record and a share of the conference championship, the first of 13 consecutive Big Six/Seven/Eight conference titles. Ultimately, Wilkinson would become one of the most celebrated college coaches of all time. His teams captured national championships in 1950, 1955, and 1956, and amassed a 145-29-4 (82.6%) overall record. An ultra-organized innovator, Wilkinson would post practice schedules that were broken down to the minute.

The centerpiece of his time in Norman was a 47-game winning streak from 1953 to 1957, an NCAA Division I record that still stands today and has only been seriously threatened thrice: by Toledo (35 wins, 1969-71), Miami (Fl.) (34 wins, 2000-03) and USC (34 wins, 2003-05). Earlier, the Sooners ran off 31 consecutive wins from 1948 to 1950. Except for two losses in 1951, the Wilkinson-coached Sooners did not lose more than one game per season for 11 years from 1948 to 1958, going 107-8-2 over that period. His teams also went 12 consecutive seasons (1947-58) without a loss in conference play — a streak which has never been seriously threatened. Wilkinson did not suffer his first conference loss until Halloween 1959 — his 79th conference game at Oklahoma.

His 1955 Oklahoma team is considered one of the greatest teams in college football history, regardless of era. He was also the first collegiate football coach to host a television show, aptly named "The Bud Wilkinson Show."

Wilkinson was also remarkable for compiling this record while showing a genuine interest and concern for the performance of his players in the classroom. Following the 1963 season, his 17th at Oklahoma, Wilkinson retired from coaching at the young age of 47.

While still at Oklahoma, Wilkinson served on the President's Council on Physical Fitness from 1961 to 1964, by which time he'd left the Sooners.

Head coaching record

After Oklahoma

Wilkinson ran as a Republican for the U.S. Senate in 1964, at which point he legally changed his first name to Bud, but lost to Democrat Fred R. Harris.

In 1965, Wilkinson joined ABC Sports as their lead color commentator on college football telecasts (teaming with Chris Schenkel and, later, Keith Jackson). Wilkinson was the color analyst for three of the greatest games in college football history: Notre Dame vs. Michigan State in 1966; Texas vs. Arkansas in 1969, and "The Game of the Century" Nebraska vs. University of Oklahoma in 1971. Wilkinson is still considered one of the best color commentators of all time because of his solid analysis and in-depth insight.

He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1969.

In 1978, Wilkinson returned to coaching, with the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL. After less than two disappointing seasons, he was fired and returned to broadcasting with ESPN.

Bud Wilkinson suffered a series of minor strokes and in early 1994, he died of congestive heart failure in St.Louis, at the age of 77.

Personal life

Wilkinson was married to the former Mary Schifflet in 1938, with whom he had two sons. They divorced in 1975. A year later, he married Donna O'Donnahue.

External links

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