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The story was told—not by Mrs. Wilkinson—that last year a death occurred in the family of one of the assistant coaches. He and his wife had to leave hurriedly to attend the funeral some 1,000 miles away. Bud and Mary Wilkinson took care of their baby during their absence.
"They just moved the baby—crib and all—into their own house for a week," the appreciative mother reported. "They're always doing nice things like that."
Wilkinson's own mother died when he was small. "But my brother Bill and I always had a warm home environment," Wilkinson said. "Relatives lived next door to us and they were wonderful. My father [Charles Patton Wilkinson, a prosperous mortgage loan broker! remarried when I was about 12 to a woman who's been just as perfect as it's possible for a person to be."
A graduate of Shattuck Military Academy in Faribault, Minn., Wilkinson has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Minnesota and a Master's degree in English from Syracuse, which he earned while he was assistant coach there. In 1943 he went on active duty in the Navy, serving on the aircraft carrier Enterprise in the Pacific.
"After the war," he said, "I thought I'd had all I wanted of a knock-around profession—and coaching is a knock-around profession—so I tried to get interested in my father's business in Minneapolis, but I couldn't. My interests were in coaching. Paper work bores me. I hate monotony of any kind. I signed a full-time contract at Oklahoma as assistant coach to Jim Tatum. The next year, in 1947, when Tatum went to Maryland, I got the job."
Wilkinson is now on the fourth year of a 10-year contract. When the season is on, he seldom relaxes, worrying generally about next Saturday's game.
"During football season, a coach hardly has time to brush his teeth," Wilkinson said. "Four hours of preparation are needed for one hour of practice. If we're going to use our practice to maximum value, we have to know what we're going to do every minute. If we're ever strategists, it's during the summer. We must decide then exactly what we're going to do so that when fall practice starts, we're teaching ball. How much football we as coaches know will have no bearing on a single game. It's the skill and knowledge we're able to impart to our players that counts. The game is won or lost by the players—not the coaches.
"We grade our players by their performance. Two or three nights a week, we study the film of the previous week's game or our practice films. Each coach looks at one man only, and we have to go through the film twice on offense and then twice on defense. One of us catches the extra man.
"If the boy does what we consider normal, he gets zero. If he does an outstanding job, he gets one point. If he knows his assignment and tries to do the right thing and doesn't or isn't successful, he gets minus-one. If he doesn't know what to do, he gets a minus-two. He gets a plus-two if he does a super job that no ordinary man could ever do with ordinary effort.
"For instance, we had a fullback named Leon Heath [All-American, 1950]. In a game against Nebraska, Heath was supposed to block the end. He went out to block the end, and the end was so far across the line of scrimmage that Heath shouldered him out of the play. Then the ball-carrier, Billy Vessels [All-American, 1952 and winner of the Heisman Memorial Trophy], cut inside. Vessels avoided the tackle and while maneuvering, slowed up enough to let Heath move back in front of him and block the line-backer.