WISHBONE OF WISDOM (A tribute to Emory Bellard and the Wishbone Offense)

A tribute to Emory Bellard and the Wishbone Offense by Delorean Fleetwood

One of the greatest aspects of college football is not only the pageantry, but the bare bones behind it. Like a car that needs fuel to run, football needs a driving force to keep the engine running. One such force is the offensive scheme that a team has at its disposal. One of the greatest offensive formations to leave its mark on the game of football, was known as the “Wishbone Offense”.

While many sources will claim to have created the formation, the most commonly known and accepted “Father of the Wishbone” was former Texas Offensive Coordinator Emory Bellard. Bellard would ultimately develop the offense by borrowing concepts from different option based offenses when he coached high school football in Texas.

In 1967, Bellard was hired by Coach Darrell Royal to become the next Offensive Coordinator for the Texas Longhorns. While coaching at the high school level, he explored the idea of having a 3 back formation in option based offenses. Royal asked Bellard to implement his ideas and put them into practice. Bellard utilized concepts borrowed from the Houston Cougars “Veer Offense” that were implemented by Coach Bill Yeoman.

Upon his hiring in 1968, Houston Chronicle sportswriter Mickey Herskowitz mentioned the formation looked like a “pulley bone”. Royal agreed with the observation, but decided on the name “Wishbone”. Thus the name of arguably the most destructive offensive in the history of college football was born.

However, it would take some adjustments before the “Bone”, would take flight. Upon analyzing game film from a 1968 loss to Texas Tech, Coach Royal made two changes that would alter the landscape of college football forever. The first thing he did was replacing Bill Bradley at Quarterback with James Street. Street nearly led the Longhorns to a come from behind win against Tech. The second change was to have Fullback Steve Worster line up a step behind where he normally started. After making these two changes, Texas would go on to win their next 30 games, and win the National Championship in 1969 and 1970. In 1971, Bellard left Texas to coach their longtime rivals, Texas A&M.

When word got out how successful the University of Texas was with ,the Wishbone, coaches came flocking to learn it and hoping to replicate the same success Texas had. The only other school to successfully use the formation was Texas’ other longtime hated rival, the Oklahoma Sooners. Led by their legendary coach Barry Switzer, the Sooners would perfect the “Bone”, taking it to unprecedented heights. Oklahoma would go on to win National Championships in 1974, 1975, and 1985. In 1971, Oklahoma was led by what Sooners fans call “The Godfather of the Wishbone”, Quarterback Jack Mildren. The Sooners set the NCAA single season rushing record. Averaging 472.4 yards per game, their record still stands almost 50 years later.

The Wishbone’s reliance on execution and discipline make it a popular choice among service academies where teamwork is the ultimate goal. The influences of the wishbone would ultimately lay the groundwork for the “Air-Raid”, the “Run and Shoot” and “Spread-Option” offenses in the years to come.

Coach Switzer was quoted saying “Nobody has ever truly stopped the wishbone. There’s a point to where people have lost interest in the wishbone. But nobody every really successfully stopped it”.

Truer words couldn’t have been spoken. It’s wisdom and teachings continue to inspire others, to continuously evolve the game that millions of fans turn to every Saturday. And it’s all thanks to the Wishbone Wisdom of the late Coach Emory Dilworth Bellard (1927-2011)

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