We’re back at it again with our Countdown to Kickoff, and today’s installment is an extra special one. With 66 days left to go until the return of Oklahoma Football, I want to use this opportunity to remember Jim Mackenzie, the head coach of the 1966 Oklahoma Sooners.
Mackenzie, an Indiana native, played his college ball at the University of Kentucky. After assistant coaching gigs at Missouri and Arkansas, Mackenzie received his first head coaching chance at Oklahoma in 1966. This came on the heels of the Gomer Jones coaching experiment that didn’t pan out the way the Sooners were used to during the legendary Bud Wilkinson era.
Remarkably, when Mackenzie became head coach for the Sooners, he was also able to bring in both Chuck Fairbanks and Barry Switzer as his assistants, giving Oklahoma one of the brightest and most promising coaching staffs in the nation.
The 1966 season was more about the restoration of the Sooners’ glory days, so even after a 6-4 record (including three losses by a combined seven points), it was clear Mackenzie finally had Oklahoma back on the winning track. His biggest win came against Darrel K. Royal and the Texas Longhorns. It was Oklahoma’s first win over UT since 1957, snapping an eight-game Red River losing streak. By season’s end, Mackenzie was named Big Eight Coach of the Year.
In the spring of 1967, the 37 year-old Jim Mackenzie passed away after suffering an unexpected heart attack. Though he was Oklahoma’s head coach for just a single season, the coaching staff he assembled set the foundation for returning Oklahoma to its national prominence. He also left behind a coaching blueprint in the form 20 rules called ‘The Winning Edge.’ These set of rules have not only served other coaches as a way to better themselves as teachers, but also as men.
- Play the percentages.
- Avoid losing first.
- Play field position football.
- Every coach knows more than he can teach.
- Don’t coach caution into good players.
- Nothing is accomplished without enthusiasm.
- Look for and recognize your mistakes in coaching.
- The little things are done by winners.
- Having a good team just gives you a chance to win.
- Physical condition precedes mental toughness and discipline precedes morale.
- Players, not coaching, win and poor coaching loses.
- Be yourself, not an actor.
- Play like you practice.
- Know the rules.
- It’s a game of critical situations.
- The kicking game is one-third of football.
- Prepare for psychological lifts and letdowns.
- Know what to expect of your offense, defense, kicking game and personnel.
- Always have a plan and believe in it.
- Form a team of winners and surround yourself with players and people to whom football means a lot.
It’s unfortunate that Oklahoma never got to see the Jim Mackenzie era fully unfold, but his successors ended up continuing his legacy and would make Oklahoma a dominant power in college football once again. It’s safe to say that Mackenzie helped save Oklahoma football as we know it.
Now let’s cover the day we missed since our last countdown post:
67 days! - The 1967 Oklahoma Sooners
Chuck Fairbanks took over as head coach after the sudden passing of Jim Mackenzieled the Sooners to a 10-1 record, including a win over the Tennessee Volunteers in the Orange Bowl. You can read more about the bounce-back year that was right here.
68 days! - Jonathan Alvarez
Offensive lineman Jonathan Alvarez is one of 10 fifth-year players on the Sooners’ roster going into the 2018 season. After using his redshirt option in 2017, Alvarez is ready to compete his way back into the rotation. The Mesquite, Texas native has 13 starts under his belt to date and has seen action in 21 games during his Oklahoma career.
Primarily, Alvarez is up against redshirt freshman Creed Humphrey for the starting position at center. Whether Alvarez wins the starting job or not (I’m leaning towards Creed), his presence as a veteran and a leader on and off the field is invaluable to the team, and at minimum, his experience will provide Bill Bedenbaugh’s O-line unit with quality depth.
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