Sooners Legends: Bennie Owen

J. Robert ByromCorrespondent IFebruary 26, 2009

I figured the offseason is a good time to look back at history and the legends of our sport. Since I am building the Sooner's Legends section of my new site, SoonersNews.Com, anyway, I figured I would share them here with Bleacher Report as well. I plan to make this a series to carry us until two-a-days start up again.

For you non-Sooner fans, I will do other legends from other teams as well, but this will be mostly an OU affair.

Bennie Owen

Bennie Owen is the grandfather of both the OU football and basketball programs, and the football field is still named after him to this day, though the stadium is not. Owen was the first of four OU football coaches to win 100 games; no other college program has more than three coaches that have reached that mark.

Owen has been credited with developing the three-point stance, though few know if that is actually true or a crude joke based on the fact that he coached with only one arm for most of his career after losing his right arm in a hunting accident in his third season as the head football coach at OU, 1908.

He also took over as basketball coach that same year and successfully coached both football and basketball until 1921 and remained as the football coach until 1926, thus 13 and 21 seasons, respectively. As a basketball coach he went 113-49, posting two undefeated seasons.

Owen met football greatness early, first playing for Fielding Yost at Kansas in 1899 and then joining Yost's coaching staff in Michigan and being part of Yost's point-a-minute squads in 1901 and 1902, where Michigan scored over 600 points in both seasons.

After beating OU in 1903 and 1904 as the head coach at Bethany College in Kansas, he was hired as the OU coach in 1905. Owen would often get angry at his players and join scrimmages as a player to amp up the intensity.

Owen changed the culture at OU immediately, going 7-2 his first year. He had two undefeated seasons in 1915 and 1918, winning the conference championship in the now defunct Southwest Conference in its inaugural season and 1915. He also led the Sooners to a Missouri Valley Conference championship and an undefeated season in 1920.

It was a different athletic culture at OU pre-Bud Wilkinson, and Owen often had to fight with budget constraints, even being fired in 1908 for making too much ($3,500) by the state legislature before being reinstated due to politicking by the university president. 

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He countered OU's lack of budget by having weeklong road trips where his teams would play three games in the same week.

Of the big four OU coaches, Owen is the only one to not win a national championship, though he had three undefeated season in 1915, 1918, and 1920. But due to regional bias, teams from the South, especially the Southwest, were seldom considered for a NC, which was much more based on polls then than even now. 

His overall record with OU was 122-54-16, giving him a winning percentage of .677. His teams scored 5,031 points and only allowed 1,470. Owen is a big reason why OU is the highest scoring football program of all time and installed the offensive mentality that has been a staple of OU athletics since his departure. He was the first coach to bring the forward pass to the southwest portion of the country. 

Bennie Owen is the father of OU athletics and is the foundation for the great programs in both sports.

Bennie Owen was a charter member of the College Football Hall of Fame when it opened in 1951.

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