Oklahoma football: Bennie Owen, a Sooner for all seasons — Part II

NORMAN, OK - NOVEMBER 9: A statue of former head coach Benjamin Gilbert "Bennie" Owen of the Oklahoma Sooners stands outside Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on November 9, 2019 in Norman, Oklahoma. OU held on to win 42-41. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
NORMAN, OK - NOVEMBER 9: A statue of former head coach Benjamin Gilbert "Bennie" Owen of the Oklahoma Sooners stands outside Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on November 9, 2019 in Norman, Oklahoma. OU held on to win 42-41. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) /

Some would say the tradition-rich history of Oklahoma football began with Bennie Owen.

In fact, five others before him held the job of Oklahoma head football coach over a period of 10 years. When Owen took over the Sooner football program in 1905, two years before Oklahoma was admitted to statehood.

At the age of 22, Owen enrolled at the University of Kansas with the plan of following in the footsteps of his mentor from Arkansas City, Kansas, Dr. S.B. Parsons and becoming a physician. His freshman year at Kansas, Owen took a part-time job working as a medical assistant to Dr. Wylie Woodruff.

Woodruff was an outstanding player at the University of Pennsylvania, which is also where he earned his medical degree. He also happened to be the football coach at Kansas, and he encouraged Owen to try out for the team.

Woodruff’s style of coaching was based on the idea of overpowering his opponents physically. He was skeptical of Owen because of his lack of size and used him only sparingly in the 1897 season, but as the season wore on, Owen became one of the team’s stalwarts, according to Gary King, author of the book, Oklahoma’s Bennie Owen: Man for All Seasons.”

Kansas was 8-2 in Owen’s freshman season, and the team won seven of its eight games the following season, which was Woodruff’s final season at the school. The Jayhawk’s only loss in the 1898 season was an 18-6 defeat to Nebraska, coached by Fielding Yost, who was hired after the season to be the new head coach at Kansas.

Unlike his predecessor at Kansas, Yost relied on speed, stealth and deception and was one of the pioneers of the no-huddle, hurry-up offense, “When a play was blown dead, he wanted his quarterback — whether he was 20 yards away from the line of scrimmage or under a pile of players, or both — to shout out the signals for the next play immediately,” King wrote. “Then he wanted his men to hurry up and line up and run another play as quickly as they could.”

Yost’s 1899 Kansas team ran the table and was a perfect 10-0. The star quarterback of that team was Bennie Owen.

Bennie Owen was the first of four legendary OU head coaches who have won over 100 games.

Owen’s coaching career began in Topeka, Kansas. After graduating from KU, he was offered a job to coach the football team at Washburn College.

He was only at Washburn one year, but the Ichabods, the unusual nickname of the school, fashioned a 6-2 record under Owen’s direction.

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The following year, Owen served as an assistant at Michigan under his former Kansas coach Yost. The year Owen was there, one of his primary duties was to quarterback the scrub team — or what today we call the practice squad — that the Michigan varsity players scrimmaged against every day in practice. That was Yost’s first season at Michigan, where he would remain for 25 years and become one of the winningest coaches in Big Blue’s history.

Owen got his second head-coaching opportunity at a small college back in Kansas. He coached the Bethany College Swedes in Lindsborg, Kansas, for three seasonsfrom 1902 to 1904, posting a 22-2-1 record. It was while at Bethany College that Owen got his first exposure to the University of Oklahoma.

Owen’s Bethany team defeated OU twice in successive seasons, in 1903 and 1904. In those days, Oklahoma football was known as the Rough Riders. The 1904 game was played at Oklahoma, and the Swedes prevailed 36-9.

Oklahoma athletic director V.L. Parrington was impressed with what Owen had done at Bethany College, and offered him the job of coaching the fledgling Oklahoma football team, which had been just 9-7-4 the previous two seasons.

Owen accepted, and the rest is history. His Oklahoma teams were successful from the get-go. He was a stickler for conditioning, and that superior physical conditioning became a weapon used by the OU football team to wear down its opponents. As prolific as the Oklahoma offense is today, in the early years of the program under Owen the team was even more explosive, scoring more than 100 points eight times over nine seasons.

Oklahoma leads all FBS teams in total points scored. The Sooners have scored over 36,000 points in 125 seasons of football, and over 5,000 of those were scored in the 22 seasons that Owen was the Oklahoma head coach,

In 1911, Oklahoma scored 104 points in its season-opening game against Kingfisher College, the first time an OU team had eclipsed the century mark in points scored. Twice Owen’s teams scored more than 150 points in a game, and in 1915, the Sooners shut out five of their opponents and won three games that season by a combined score of 258-0.

Owen is credited with giving OU its very first win over archrival Texas, a 2-0 victory in 1905, his first season in Norman. He also reportedly is credited with introducing the forward pass in the southwestern United States. He liked it because it enabled his teams to score more quickly against lesser opponents.

Owen’s Oklahoma teams had just three losing seasons in the 22 he was there as head coach. Interestingly, they all came in succession between 1922 and 1924.

In 1906, one year after he had taken the football job, he started coaching the OU baseball program, and two years later, he added head basketball coach to his duties. So from 1908 to 1921, he would go from football in the fall, to basketball in the winter months and then transition to baseball in the spring.

Owen’s total won-lost record for the three sports while a head coach at Oklahoma was 377-205-20 (.643).

Owen was a charter member of the College Football Hall of Fame. He was elected in 1951. He died in Houston, Texas, in 1970 at the age of 94.

Next. Which of OU's legendary football coaches had the best success in rivalry games?. dark

There is no other way to look at it. Bennie Owen was definitely a Sooner for all seasons.

*Information for his article was sourced in part from the book, “Oklahoma’s Bennie Owen: Man for All Seasons,” by Gary King. Published in 2015 by The History Press, Charleston, South Carolina.