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Review - I Remember Bud Wilkinson

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I figured I'd cheat on this book like a lot of reviewers do, and only read parts of it then write the review. It didn't work out that way. The more I got into the book and Bud Wilkinson's life, the more I wanted to know about him, so I ended up reading the whole book. That alone says a lot about the book!

Bud Wilkinson's name isn't mentioned with college football coaching legends like Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden, Paul 'Bear' Bryant, Woody Hayes, Amos Alonzo Stagg, Pop Warner or Tom Osborne, but it should be.  Wilkinson became a head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners in 1947 at the young age of 31. Seventeen years later he retired from coaching in 1963 at age 47 after winning three national titles in 1950,1955, and 1956.

Along with the titles, his coaching career included one win streak of 31 games and another spanning over four years at a record-holding 47 games. (So, how does won go on a 47-game winning streak and only win two national titles? The answer is in the book.) At one point Wilkinson's win/loss record stood at a incredible 94-5-2 over 101 games - a feat that will never be duplicated.

'I Remember Bud Wilkinson' isn't a book about Bud Wilkinson's life as told by the author. Instead the story of Wilkinson's life is told by the people who knew him throughout his life.  Included are comments from notable names such as Curt Gowdy, Keith Jackson, Barry Switzer, Jim Hart, and Ara Parseghian.

The first part of the book contains stories from coaches and players during his career at Oklahoma. We are treated with several anecdotes about Wilkinson's coaching philosophy from how he handled his players to how he organized his practices. The stories give the reader a good idea of who Bud Wilkinson was as a person and how he developed the Sooners into the stuff of legend.  At times, the stories are inspiring and may serve as guidance to young people  - I realize this sounds a bit corny - on how to conduct themselves.

The stories after Wilkinson retired from coaching and became a broadcaster tend to be more light-hearted. You're treated to a different side of Wilkinson and simultaneously what the early days in college football broadcasting were like.

Some of the better ones include:

  • Keith Jackson recalling an experience when Bear Bryant was to assist in a broadcast. Bryant showed up  'pretty well greased', commented very little and eventually ended up nodding off while Wilkinson was forced to work him in and out of the broadcast.
  •  Barry Switzer telling a story about how Wilkinson spent the night in a hotel room serving drinks to Woody Hayes, Bob Devaney, Bear Bryant, and Duffy Daugherty.
  • How a television cue mix-up lead to the Air Force Falcon flying off before the broadcast started. How another mistake left Wilkinson and fellow broadcaster Chris Schenkel shouting over the top of a marching band at the beginning of the first Peach Bowl broadcast.

The last part of the book deals with Wilkinson's two-year with the St Louis Cardinals as a NFL head coach. Stories here relate why Wilkinson failed, how the Cardinals were run as an organization. The end of the book includes "In His Own Words" – which weren’t nearly as interesting as the other stories throughout the book. The book then concludes with a history of Wilkinson’s win/loss record throughout his career.

'I Remember Bud Wilkinson'  is a pretty fun read. It’s also an easy read. The stories are interesting whether they're about football, broadcasting or Wilkinson's short-lived NFL career. You get a full view of his life and an understanding of the world in which he lived. The book isn’t just for Oklahoma Sooners fans – it’s for anyone who would like to know more about college football history and one of the greatest unsung coaches to shape the game.

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