Chuck Fairbanks, football coach at Oklahoma and New England, dies at 79

Chuck Fairbanks, who coached Heisman Trophy winner Steve Owens at the University of Oklahoma and spent six seasons as coach of the New England Patriots, died April 2 in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 79.

The cause was brain cancer, the University of Oklahoma announced.

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Mr. Fairbanks was 52-15-1 in six years with the Sooners, including an Orange Bowl victory his first season and consecutive Sugar Bowl wins in 1971-72 before taking over the Patriots. He won 46 games at New England, a franchise record at the time.

The Patriots made the playoffs in their fourth season under Mr. Fairbanks in 1976 and two years later were on their way to their first outright AFC East title when owner Billy Sullivan angrily suspended him for the final regular-season game because he had agreed to become the coach at the University of Colorado. Mr. Fairbanks returned for the playoffs, but New England lost to Houston. He was 0-2 in the playoffs with New England.

At Colorado, Mr. Fairbanks was 7-26 in three seasons, including an 82-42 loss at home to the Sooners and his replacement there, Barry Switzer.

Mr. Fairbanks left the Colorado Buffaloes to become coach and general manager of the New Jersey Generals of the USFL. He was fired after one season.

In Mr. Fairbanks’s first year coaching in 1967, the Oklahoma Sooners went 10-1 and beat Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. His teams won 11 games each of his last two seasons with OU, beating Auburn and Penn State in the Sugar Bowl.

Mr. Fairbanks agreed to the suggestion of Switzer, his offensive coordinator, to install the wishbone offense at OU after Texas used it to win a national championship in 1969. A wishbone offense is a formation in which the fullback is positioned closer to the quarterback, with two halfbacks positioned farther back. It’s a formation that lends itself to a strong running game.

After becoming head coach, Switzer used the wishbone to win three national titles, matching the number Bud Wilkinson won at Oklahoma from 1947 to 1963, a tenure that included a record 47-game winning streak.

Charles Leo Fairbanks was born in Detroit on June 10, 1933. He played for Michigan State’s 1952 national title team and was an assistant at Arizona State and Houston before joining the OU staff in 1966. Owens became one of five Heisman winners for Oklahoma after rushing for 1,523 yards and 23 touchdowns in 1969.

Mr. Fairbanks worked in real estate and golf-course development after his coaching career. He occasionally worked as a consultant for NFL teams in training camp, including with the Dallas Cowboys when Bill Parcells was coach.

— Associated Press

Schuyler Dixon in Dallas contributed to this report.