On this day in 1947, Bud Wilkinson made his head coaching debut against Detroit U. OU won 24-20.
In his first season as head coach in 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 (.826) overall record. An 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 three times: by Toledo (35 wins, 1969–1971), Miami (FL) (34 wins, 2000–2003), and USC (34 wins, 2003–2005). 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 between 1948 and 1958, going 107–8–2 over that period. His teams also went 12 consecutive seasons totaling 74 games (1947–1958) without a loss in conference play, a streak which has never been seriously threatened. Wilkinson did not suffer his first conference loss until 1959 against Nebraska, his 79th conference game.
Wilkinson’s 1955 Oklahoma team is widely considered to be 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 age of 47. Along with Bennie Owen, Barry Switzer and Bob Stoops, he is one of four football coaches to win over 100 games at the University of Oklahoma. No other college football program has had more than three coaches to accomplish the feat.
While at Oklahoma, Wilkinson served on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness from 1961 to 1964. He designed 11 floor exercises for schoolchildren that were incorporated into the song “Chicken Fat”, the theme song for President John F. Kennedy’s youth fitness program, which was widely used in school gymnasiums across the country in the 1960s and 1970s.