Chuck Fairbanks dies of cancer at 79

Updated: April 3, 2013, 3:11 AM ET
By Mike Reiss |

Former New England Patriots coach Chuck Fairbanks died of brain cancer on Tuesday, according to the team. He was 79.

Fairbanks coached the Patriots from 1973-78, leading the franchise to some of its greatest success by the end of his tenure, including two playoff berths. The Patriots were 3-11 prior to his arrival and went 11-3, 9-5 and 11-5 over his final three seasons.

Fairbanks' Patriots legacy has been widely discussed, in part because of how his time with the franchise ended, with Fairbanks ultimately becoming head coach at Colorado in 1978. But most agree the foundation created by Fairbanks was instrumental, as a big part of his success came in drafting top-notch players, including offensive lineman John Hannah, linebacker Steve Nelson, tight end Russ Francis and cornerback Mike Haynes, among others.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick acknowledged Fairbanks' across-the-board influence last September.

"Chuck has been a good friend for a long time and he's meant a lot to this organization. At the time he came here, he did a great job turning the Patriots around and making them into one of the top teams in the AFC," Belichick said.

Belichick also touched on some of the football-specific areas in which Fairbanks had a big influence in the 1970s.

[+] EnlargeChuck Fairbanks
Dick Raphael/USA TODAY SportsChuck Fairbanks led the Patriots to some of the team's greatest successes in the pre-Belichick era.

"They were things that stood the test of time and have been a big principle of this league for many, many years, [with] the disciples and people with him -- 3-4 defense, the way he organized the draft, personnel meetings," he said.

Fairbanks also coached the Oklahoma Sooners from 1967-72, and famously gave offensive coordinator Barry Switzer the nod in 1970 to implement the wishbone offense, which turned Oklahoma into an offensive powerhouse for the next two decades.

Fairbanks came to Oklahoma as part of Jim Mackenzie's staff in 1966, and became head coach after Mackenzie died suddenly from a heart attack a year later.

The Sooners went 10-1 and beat Tennessee in the Orange Bowl in Fairbanks' first year. But the program sputtered in the late '60s, as "Chuck Chuck" bumper stickers began to pop up all over the state. After another slow start in 1970, Switzer convinced Fairbanks to turn to the wishbone, which Texas had invented and been running to great success. The Longhorns annihilated Oklahoma's new offense the following week. But the wishbone gradually took shape, and it would be seven years before the Sooners would lose to Texas again.

In six seasons as Oklahoma's head coach, Fairbanks won three Big Eight titles and 52 games, but a loss was the most famous college game he coached. In the 1971 "Game of the Century," Fairbanks' second-ranked Sooners held a fourth-quarter lead over Nebraska. But the top-ranked Huskers rallied with a game-winning touchdown drive and went on to capture the national championship.

SoonerNation's Jake Trotter contributed to this report.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter


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