With the beginning of the college football season this week, it just feels right to pass along this OU Insider interview of one of Texas’ legendary college football coaches — Emory Bellard, the inventor of the Wishbone offense.
Numerous National Championship teams from Texas, Alabama and Oklahoma used the Wishbone during the two decades after Bellard implemented the formation as an assistant coach with the Texas Longhorns during the 1968 season. Although Bellard went on to a mercurial tenure as the head coach at Texas A&M in the 1970’s, he is best remembered for developing the Wishbone, which was a devastatingly effective triple-option offense (Paul Johnson at Navy and now at Georgia Tech runs a variation of the Wishbone today). OU Insider interview focuses on Bellard’s memories and thoughts about the Wishbone, which include the following pearls:
On the criticism that the Wishbone was an ineffective passing offense:
". . . The biggest mistake I made in the passing game was assuming that we needed something short, but we didn’t. We just needed to throw deep. We did not need to throw short because everybody was coming up this way trying to stop the run. So as long as we kept out deep threats, post patterns and the streak patterns — that’s what we should have been placing the emphasis on."
On what happened after Bellard implemented the Wishbone at UT in 1968:
"So we put it in  and we tied the first game and lost the second one and then we won the next 30."
On his misgivings about teaching UCLA’s Pepper Rodgers the Wishbone:
"You can’t imagine the number of colleges that were at our spring practice. We conducted a darn coaching clinic every day; it was the biggest mess I ever messed with. I got so tired of talking to people."
"Pepper Rodgers, he came down from UCLA and they had had a bad year. Mark Harmon, the young actor, he was to be the quarterback and he was a good one, too. Ended up being a good one."
"But I spent about a week and I’d go back up to the office and talk with him at night and that jackass went back out and put the Wishbone in at UCLA and had a book published before Christmas. Boy, that takes a lot of gall there, now. I just, that really…"
And finally, on legendary UT head coach Darrell Royal’s decision to teach the Wishbone to other programs, including arch-rival Oklahoma. OU refined the formation during the late 1970’s and 80’s to win National Championships and to dominate Texas after UT abandoned the Wishbone when Royal retired in 1975:
"[E]verybody in the country was looking to run the Wishbone. And it became the winningest formation in the history of the game of football for quite a while there. We gave it to Alabama, we gave it to Oklahoma. I mean, their execution knowledge and so forth of the offense came from us; we gave it to Oklahoma."
"I just saw Barry [Switzer] the other day. He was offensive coordinator at Oklahoma and Chuck Fairbanks was the head coach and Darrell came into my office one day and we’d already just wore Oklahoma out a couple years and he said, “Chuck is in trouble, he’s gonna lose his job and they want to put in the Wishbone. Barry is gonna be calling you, help him all you can.”
I shook my head, I said, “Darrell, you got to be joking?” He said, “No, I wanna help him.”
I said, “Well, I can admire your wanting to help somebody but I said, gosh darn, not them.” That’s true, too, because they got to where they had so much speed it was hard for us to catch them.
He [Royal] called me about four or five months ago. He calls every now and then and I call him every now and then. But anyhow, he called and said, “You know, I was just sitting here thinking, I might not be as benevolent if I had it to do over (again).”
I said, “I hope not, Darrell. I don’t think we could go through that again.”