Obituary: Chuck Fairbanks / A fitful football coach

June 10, 1933 - April 2, 2013


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Chuck Fairbanks, who built successful football teams in college at the University of Oklahoma and in the National Football League with the New England Patriots but left each job under a cloud of disfavor, died Tuesday in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 79.

The cause was brain cancer, said Pete Moris, a spokesman for the Oklahoma athletic department.

Known as a savvy player evaluator, a shrewd recruiter and a practice-field taskmaster, Mr. Fairbanks went to Oklahoma as an assistant in 1966 and took over when his predecessor, Jim Mackenzie, died of a heart attack in April 1967 at 37.

In his first year, Mr. Fairbanks led the Sooners to a 10-1 record and the championship of the conference then known as the Big Eight; they won the conference title again in 1968.

In 1971, the Sooners led the nation in scoring and yards gained, whipped Auburn in the Sugar Bowl and finished second in the polls.

A national title eluded them when, in the 10th game of the season, they lost to league rival Nebraska, 35-31, in a wildly exciting contest often called "the game of the century."

After the 1972 season, during which Oklahoma again was 11-1 and again finished second in the polls, Mr. Fairbanks accepted a job as coach and general manager of the Patriots.

He left Sooners fans feeling betrayed, especially after the NCAA unearthed 14 rules violations at Oklahoma during Mr. Fairbanks' tenure and punished the university by ordering forfeits of several games and rendering Sooners teams ineligible for bowl games for two years.

With the Patriots, Mr. Fairbanks took a franchise whose record from 1970 to 1972 was 11-31 and made it competitive.

From 1973 to 1978, his Patriots teams went 46-40 in the regular season, including 31-13 with two playoff appearances, both losses, in his last three years. He was named league Coach of the Year in 1976 by The Sporting News.

Once again, however, Mr. Fairbanks made a shady exit. During the 1978 regular season, with an unexpired contract with the Patriots, he secretly accepted a job at the University of Colorado.

The Patriots sued the university, the university sued the Patriots and the affair was finally settled after a Colorado booster organization paid the Patriots $200,000 to release Mr. Fairbanks from his contract.

Mr. Fairbanks' tenure at Colorado was calamitous: In three seasons, the team went 7-26 and was tainted by stories of off-the-field misdeeds by players, including two who were expelled for selling copies of an exam to an undercover police officer.

Charles Leo Fairbanks was born in Detroit on June 10, 1933, and played football at Michigan State. He began his coaching career at Ishpeming High School in Michigan, and he was an assistant at Arizona State and the University of Houston before landing at Oklahoma.

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