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John Blake timeline: Former OU football coach had a trailblazing career

John Blake played nose guard for coach Barry Switzer at OU from 1979-82. The Sooners went 36-11-1 during his playing career. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]
John Blake played nose guard for coach Barry Switzer at OU from 1979-82. The Sooners went 36-11-1 during his playing career. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]

Former OU player and head coach John Blake died of a heart attack. He was 59.

Blake had a career in football few can replicate, which included a four-year career at OU under Barry Switzer, becoming the first Black head coach in any OU sport and multiple assistant coaching roles in the NFL.

Here is a timeline on the highlights of Blake’s career:

1979-82: Nose guard at OU

Switzer recruited Blake out of Charles Page High School in Sand Springs, where he played fullback and nose guard. Blake played nose guard at OU, and the Sooners went 36-11-1 during his playing career.

In his first two college seasons, Blake won two Big Eight titles and won two Orange Bowls against Florida State in 1979 and 1980. The team went 21-3 during those seasons.

OU declined in Blake’s last two years on the roster, finishing second in the Big Eight both seasons and losing four games each year. But the Sooners beat Houston in the Sun Bowl in dominating fashion in Blake’s junior year, 40-14.

1985-86: Coaching career begins at OU

A few years removed from his playing days, Blake’s coaching career began under Switzer at OU. In 1985, Blake was a student assistant on the Sooners’ sixth national championship team.

OU went 11-1 and beat Penn State in the Orange Bowl, 25-10, to secure their national title. Blake moved up to the ranks to be a graduate assistant the following season, which was another 11-1 season in which the Sooners took home the Orange Bowl.

1989: Blake returns to OU to coach defensive line

Blake returned to OU one year after Switzer left the program to coach the team’s defensive line. OU was coached by another former Switzer player, Gary Gibbs, who played at OU from 1972 to 1974. Gibbs was OU’s defensive coordinator from 1980 to 1988, which included Blake’s final two seasons as a player.

OU won seven games in 1989, which was the lowest win total the Sooners had tallied since 1981. The team entered the season ranked No. 15 in the country, but suffered losses to rivals Texas and Nebraska.

1990-92: Blake moves to coach linebackers

After one season as the team’s defensive lines coach, Blake changed course and coached the team’s linebackers for three seasons.

The Sooners went 8-3 in 1990, 9-3 in 1991 and dropped to 5-4-2 in 1992, totaling a 22-10-2 record in Blake’s time as linebackers coach. The team went 0-3 against Texas, 1-2 against Nebraska and 2-0-1 against Oklahoma State during that span.

1993: Blake begins NFL coaching career with Dallas Cowboys

With several years as a position coach in college under his belt, Blake made the jump to the NFL to coach the defensive line for the Dallas Cowboys, the reigning Super Bowl champions, for coach Jimmy Johnson.

Blake coached former OU defensive lineman Tony Cassilas and Pro Bowlers Charles Haley and Russell Maryland in this first season. The Cowboys' starting defensive linemen tallied 16 total sacks and four fumble recoveries.

The Cowboys finished the regular season 12-4 on the way to a second consecutive Super Bowl win.

1994-95: Switzer and Blake reunite in Dallas

After nearly a decade apart, Switzer and Blake were reunited after Switzer took over as Dallas’ head coach in 1994. The Cowboys went 12-4 in Switzer’s first year as head coach but couldn’t win a third consecutive Super Bowl. The San Francisco 49ers took down Dallas in the NFC Championship, 38-28.

Blake’s unit also shined in Switzer’s first year, with Haley being named an AP First-Team All Pro member and NFC Defensive Player of the Year. He finished the season with 68 total tackles and 12.5 sacks.

In 1995, the Cowboys went 12-4 once again and were Super Bowl contenders. Dallas won each of its playoff games by at least 10 points, including a 27-17 win over Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.

It was Blake’s last season with the Cowboys, who went 36-12 record in the regular season, 7-1 in the playoffs and won two Super Bowl rings during his tenure.

1996: Blake begins three-year tenure as OU head coach

Blake is perhaps most famous among the OU fanbase for replacing Howard Schnellenberger after his one-year stint as OU’s head coach.

His first season at OU was one of the worst in program history, as the Sooners went 3-8. It was the first time OU won only three games since 1965. The team started off 0-4, which included losses to San Diego State, Tulsa and Kansas.

Despite a rocky start, OU beat Texas in an overtime upset, 30-27, which was Blake’s first win as head coach. The team beat Baylor, 28-24, the following game and won Bedlam three weeks later.

1997: Sooners continue to struggle in Blake era

Blake’s second year wasn’t much of an improvement from his first, finishing with a 4-8 record. OU started the season off with a shutout loss to Northwestern, but finished nonconference play 2-2.

The Sooners struggled mightily against their rivals, losing to Texas, Nebraska and Oklahoma State by a combined score of 126-38. OU won two conference games against Baylor and Texas Tech by one point each.

1998: Blake departs OU, but lays groundwork for future

Blake’s final year as the Sooners’ head coach looked quite similar to his first two. Losses to Texas and OSU. A losing record. No bowl game qualification.

However, 1998 was a time in which Blake shined in recruiting, which proved to be a crucial part in his legacy as OU’s head coach. His 1998 recruiting class featured players who were stars for OU’s 2000 national championship team, including Andre Woolfolk, Rocky Calmus and Roy Williams.

2003-10: Blake bounces around college football

After being fired from OU, Blake didn’t coach for several years. But when he returned, he had short stints at multiple schools, including Mississippi State in 2003, Nebraska from 2004-06 and North Carolina from 2007-10.

Blake’s final two seasons at Nebraska culminated in bowl wins, and he once again showed his recruiting chops. He was the primary recruiter that led four-star defensive tackle Ndamkong Suh to Lincoln. Suh went on to be one of the best players in college football and is still an NFL starter.

2010: College coaching career ends in controversy

Blake’s last stop in college football was in Chapel Hill. After three seasons UNC’s defensive line coach, Blake resigned amid an NCAA investigation that centered around his financial relationship with then-NFL agent Gary Wichard.

The NCAA investigation found that Blake was compensated by Wichard for access he provided to players, but Blake denied those allegations in 2011. The investigation also vacated 16 wins from the Tar Heels and led to the firing of head coach Butch Davis.

Related Photos
<strong>Barry Switzer and John Blake greet before a groundbreaking ceremony for the Barry Switzer Center at OU in 1997. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]</strong>

Barry Switzer and John Blake greet before a groundbreaking ceremony for the Barry Switzer Center at OU in 1997. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-3f24a2ea19a87ee21eee440054a45333.jpg" alt="Photo - Barry Switzer and John Blake greet before a groundbreaking ceremony for the Barry Switzer Center at OU in 1997. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] " title=" Barry Switzer and John Blake greet before a groundbreaking ceremony for the Barry Switzer Center at OU in 1997. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] "><figcaption> Barry Switzer and John Blake greet before a groundbreaking ceremony for the Barry Switzer Center at OU in 1997. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c7a65e034b74e53503efd9b3c8edd546.jpg" alt="Photo - OU football coach John Blake" title="OU football coach John Blake"><figcaption>OU football coach John Blake</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-8ef76f4e8693289ecbd1ab2275de4075.jpg" alt="Photo - University of Oklahoma football coach, John Blake looks over practice." title="University of Oklahoma football coach, John Blake looks over practice."><figcaption>University of Oklahoma football coach, John Blake looks over practice.</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-262ec37ae3257cd79b32bb1293655a52.jpg" alt="Photo - OU VS NORTHWESTERN (PIGSKIN CLASSIC)--OU HEAD COACH JOHN BLAKE AND QUARTERBACK ERIC MOORE AT PRACTICE THURSDAY MORNING AT CONCORDIA COLLEGE IN RIVER FOREST, IL ( A CHICAGO SUBURB)" title="OU VS NORTHWESTERN (PIGSKIN CLASSIC)--OU HEAD COACH JOHN BLAKE AND QUARTERBACK ERIC MOORE AT PRACTICE THURSDAY MORNING AT CONCORDIA COLLEGE IN RIVER FOREST, IL ( A CHICAGO SUBURB)"><figcaption>OU VS NORTHWESTERN (PIGSKIN CLASSIC)--OU HEAD COACH JOHN BLAKE AND QUARTERBACK ERIC MOORE AT PRACTICE THURSDAY MORNING AT CONCORDIA COLLEGE IN RIVER FOREST, IL ( A CHICAGO SUBURB)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-8bd131eff34aad55bc723ad895266b33.jpg" alt="Photo - OU VS NORTHWESTERN (PIGSKIN CLASSIC)--OU HEAD COACH JOHN BLAKE AND ATHLETIC DIRECTOR STEVE OWENS ADDRESS AN ENTHUSIASTIC CROWD OF OU FANS GATHERED AT A DOWNTOWN CHICAGO HOTEL FOR A PEP RALLY THURSDAY NIGHT." title="OU VS NORTHWESTERN (PIGSKIN CLASSIC)--OU HEAD COACH JOHN BLAKE AND ATHLETIC DIRECTOR STEVE OWENS ADDRESS AN ENTHUSIASTIC CROWD OF OU FANS GATHERED AT A DOWNTOWN CHICAGO HOTEL FOR A PEP RALLY THURSDAY NIGHT."><figcaption>OU VS NORTHWESTERN (PIGSKIN CLASSIC)--OU HEAD COACH JOHN BLAKE AND ATHLETIC DIRECTOR STEVE OWENS ADDRESS AN ENTHUSIASTIC CROWD OF OU FANS GATHERED AT A DOWNTOWN CHICAGO HOTEL FOR A PEP RALLY THURSDAY NIGHT.</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-ec6fefabd26d87d17ed0d2e95042b20e.jpg" alt="Photo - OU VS NORTHWESTERN (PIGSKIN CLASSIC)--OU FOOTBALL HEAD COACH JOHN BLAKE MANAGED A FEW SMILES WHILE OU PRACTICED THURSDAY MORNING." title="OU VS NORTHWESTERN (PIGSKIN CLASSIC)--OU FOOTBALL HEAD COACH JOHN BLAKE MANAGED A FEW SMILES WHILE OU PRACTICED THURSDAY MORNING."><figcaption>OU VS NORTHWESTERN (PIGSKIN CLASSIC)--OU FOOTBALL HEAD COACH JOHN BLAKE MANAGED A FEW SMILES WHILE OU PRACTICED THURSDAY MORNING.</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-fe03e1417b00c6c2a86f693da90c878d.jpg" alt="Photo - OU VS NORTHWESTERN (PIGSKIN CLASSIC)-- N'WESTERN COACH GARY BARNETT AND OU COACH JOHN BLAKE MEET AT MIDFIELD AFTER FOOTBALL GAME" title="OU VS NORTHWESTERN (PIGSKIN CLASSIC)-- N'WESTERN COACH GARY BARNETT AND OU COACH JOHN BLAKE MEET AT MIDFIELD AFTER FOOTBALL GAME"><figcaption>OU VS NORTHWESTERN (PIGSKIN CLASSIC)-- N'WESTERN COACH GARY BARNETT AND OU COACH JOHN BLAKE MEET AT MIDFIELD AFTER FOOTBALL GAME</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-7f0cf6a525d2975f8b80f0812804091d.jpg" alt="Photo - OU head football coach John Blake during spring practice Saturday afternoon." title="OU head football coach John Blake during spring practice Saturday afternoon."><figcaption>OU head football coach John Blake during spring practice Saturday afternoon.</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-930287da7f97d832d64de915844511fc.jpg" alt="Photo - OU VS CALIFORNIA FOOTBALL GAME: OU HEAD COACH JOHN BLAKE." title="OU VS CALIFORNIA FOOTBALL GAME: OU HEAD COACH JOHN BLAKE."><figcaption>OU VS CALIFORNIA FOOTBALL GAME: OU HEAD COACH JOHN BLAKE.</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6cfcb4fa13a69fd33c979a2d17fbdea0.jpg" alt="Photo - OU VS TEXAS FOOTBALL: OU COACH JOHN BLAKE WALKS OFF THE FIELD AFTER OU LOST TO TEXAS 34-3." title="OU VS TEXAS FOOTBALL: OU COACH JOHN BLAKE WALKS OFF THE FIELD AFTER OU LOST TO TEXAS 34-3."><figcaption>OU VS TEXAS FOOTBALL: OU COACH JOHN BLAKE WALKS OFF THE FIELD AFTER OU LOST TO TEXAS 34-3.</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-481ba6d71d4ac779d312f5fecac868d3.jpg" alt="Photo - OU vs Missouri: OU HEAD FOOTBALL COACH JOHN BLAKE LEADS TEAM ONTO FIELD AT MISSOURI." title="OU vs Missouri: OU HEAD FOOTBALL COACH JOHN BLAKE LEADS TEAM ONTO FIELD AT MISSOURI."><figcaption>OU vs Missouri: OU HEAD FOOTBALL COACH JOHN BLAKE LEADS TEAM ONTO FIELD AT MISSOURI.</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-0a66a9404ce6ab137cc7e713f3c62548.jpg" alt="Photo - OU VS BAYLOR FOOTBALL: John Blake congratulates Jason Bronson on the offensive line play allowing a long Parker score in the second half." title="OU VS BAYLOR FOOTBALL: John Blake congratulates Jason Bronson on the offensive line play allowing a long Parker score in the second half."><figcaption>OU VS BAYLOR FOOTBALL: John Blake congratulates Jason Bronson on the offensive line play allowing a long Parker score in the second half.</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-f338d93687c8fdbedfc4c1797cd89124.jpg" alt="Photo - OU football coach John Blake addresses the media at his weekly press conference." title="OU football coach John Blake addresses the media at his weekly press conference."><figcaption>OU football coach John Blake addresses the media at his weekly press conference.</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-0b169b4da4b08e481a48e10301c56e0d.jpg" alt="Photo - OU football coach John Blake addresses the media at his weekly press conference. STAFF PHOTO BY DOUG HOKE" title="OU football coach John Blake addresses the media at his weekly press conference. STAFF PHOTO BY DOUG HOKE"><figcaption>OU football coach John Blake addresses the media at his weekly press conference. STAFF PHOTO BY DOUG HOKE</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-faec6930bd55fc821e29a3ba91399755.jpg" alt="Photo - OU football coach John Blake addresses the media at his weekly press conference." title="OU football coach John Blake addresses the media at his weekly press conference."><figcaption>OU football coach John Blake addresses the media at his weekly press conference.</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-71089476f271515ee3cac90ac409087b.jpg" alt="Photo - De'Mond Parker makes the announcement of his availability for the NFL draft. With Parker, from left, is his mom, Carol Parker, holding De'Mond's daughter Dominique, 2, OU football coach John Blake, and his older brother, Dyrel Parker." title="De'Mond Parker makes the announcement of his availability for the NFL draft. With Parker, from left, is his mom, Carol Parker, holding De'Mond's daughter Dominique, 2, OU football coach John Blake, and his older brother, Dyrel Parker."><figcaption>De'Mond Parker makes the announcement of his availability for the NFL draft. With Parker, from left, is his mom, Carol Parker, holding De'Mond's daughter Dominique, 2, OU football coach John Blake, and his older brother, Dyrel Parker.</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-ac8da01c7eec4f6cb658277560780dc6.jpg" alt="Photo - OU's Athletic Director Joe Castiglione greets Head football Coach John Blake before the game." title="OU's Athletic Director Joe Castiglione greets Head football Coach John Blake before the game."><figcaption>OU's Athletic Director Joe Castiglione greets Head football Coach John Blake before the game.</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6f410c2abf1adeae7e16c7b05b9b9726.jpg" alt="Photo - OU football coach John Blake is congratulated by OU Regent C.S. Lewis after beating Texas Tech." title="OU football coach John Blake is congratulated by OU Regent C.S. Lewis after beating Texas Tech."><figcaption>OU football coach John Blake is congratulated by OU Regent C.S. Lewis after beating Texas Tech.</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-3369a90e2ab18239536ef71d0b2ba418.jpg" alt="Photo - OU FOOTBALL COACH JOHN BLAKE'S FIRING: John Blake press conference at the Santee Lounge." title="OU FOOTBALL COACH JOHN BLAKE'S FIRING: John Blake press conference at the Santee Lounge."><figcaption>OU FOOTBALL COACH JOHN BLAKE'S FIRING: John Blake press conference at the Santee Lounge.</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-4b62c3f4ee411686806b52c579a8fd99.jpg" alt="Photo - John Blake press conference at the Santee Lounge." title="John Blake press conference at the Santee Lounge."><figcaption>John Blake press conference at the Santee Lounge.</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-340f2b08bd741f55d895600b6fa6dbec.jpg" alt="Photo - Norman, Okla. - November 13, 2004. University of Nebraska (NU) at University of Oklahoma (OU) college football on Owen Field in The Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Former Oklahoma head coach John Blake, right, now an assistant at Nebraska, coaches from the sideline along with Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan, center. By Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman" title="Norman, Okla. - November 13, 2004. University of Nebraska (NU) at University of Oklahoma (OU) college football on Owen Field in The Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Former Oklahoma head coach John Blake, right, now an assistant at Nebraska, coaches from the sideline along with Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan, center. By Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Norman, Okla. - November 13, 2004. University of Nebraska (NU) at University of Oklahoma (OU) college football on Owen Field in The Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Former Oklahoma head coach John Blake, right, now an assistant at Nebraska, coaches from the sideline along with Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan, center. By Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-75960abb6c391628c18a64a6af6ba81e.jpg" alt="Photo - Nebraska assistant coach John Blake and Barry Switzer talk before the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) at the Nebraska Cornhuskers (NU) college football game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., October 29, 2005. By Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman" title="Nebraska assistant coach John Blake and Barry Switzer talk before the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) at the Nebraska Cornhuskers (NU) college football game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., October 29, 2005. By Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Nebraska assistant coach John Blake and Barry Switzer talk before the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) at the Nebraska Cornhuskers (NU) college football game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., October 29, 2005. By Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-285b4b74ca6075f1f0f06c6fac9327b6.jpg" alt="Photo - Former OU head coach John Blake, now an assistant coach with Nebraska, during the college football game between Oklahoma State University (OSU) and University of Nebraska (NU) in Stillwater, Okla. at Boone Pickens Stadium, Saturday, October 28, 2006. By Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD" title="Former OU head coach John Blake, now an assistant coach with Nebraska, during the college football game between Oklahoma State University (OSU) and University of Nebraska (NU) in Stillwater, Okla. at Boone Pickens Stadium, Saturday, October 28, 2006. By Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD"><figcaption>Former OU head coach John Blake, now an assistant coach with Nebraska, during the college football game between Oklahoma State University (OSU) and University of Nebraska (NU) in Stillwater, Okla. at Boone Pickens Stadium, Saturday, October 28, 2006. By Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c135e09cdd07056ec7e0a37d82dff328.jpg" alt="Photo - John Blake played nose guard for coach Barry Switzer at OU from 1979-82. The Sooners went 36-11-1 during his playing career. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] " title=" John Blake played nose guard for coach Barry Switzer at OU from 1979-82. The Sooners went 36-11-1 during his playing career. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] "><figcaption> John Blake played nose guard for coach Barry Switzer at OU from 1979-82. The Sooners went 36-11-1 during his playing career. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] </figcaption></figure>
Vic Reynolds

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