Chuck Fairbanks
Chuck Fairbanks
Sport(s) Football
Biographical details
Born June 10, 1933 (1933-06-10) (age 78)
Playing career
1952–1954 Michigan State
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
Ishpeming HS (MI)
Arizona State (assistant)
Houston (assistant)
Oklahoma (DB)
New England Patriots
New Jersey Generals
Head coaching record
Overall 59–41–1 (college)
46–40 (NFL)
6–12 (USFL)
Bowls 3–1–1
College Football Data Warehouse
Accomplishments and honors
3 Big Eight (1967–1968, 1972)
Sporting News College Football COY (1971)

Chuck Fairbanks (born June 10, 1933) is a former American football coach, a head coach at the high school, collegiate and professional levels. The offensive and defensive systems he introduced and helped develop have proven influential in the NFL.


Early career

Fairbanks graduated from Michigan State in 1955, following three years of football with the Spartans. That fall he began the first of three years as head coach of Ishpeming High School in Michigan.

College assistant

In 1958, he accepted an assistant coaching position at Arizona State, spending four years there under head coach Frank Kush, before moving on for another four-year stint at Houston under head coach Bill Yeoman from 1962 to 1965. In 1966, he accepted an assistant coaching position at Oklahoma.

Head coach

Following the sudden death of Sooner head coach Jim Mackenzie in April 1967, Fairbanks was promoted to head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners. Over the next six years, Fairbanks led the team to three Big Eight Conference titles, with 11–1 records during his final two seasons. Three months after Fairbanks mid-contract departure to the New England Patriots, Oklahoma was forced to forfeit nine games from the 1972 campaign after evidence of recruiting violations involving altered transcripts of student-athletes was found. Fairbanks denied knowledge of the situation. The scandal under his watch prevented the Sooners from playing in bowl games for two years after his departure and also kept them from challenging for the national championship. Despite the probation, the Sooners, under his successor Barry Switzer, won two national titles in 1974 and 1975.


On January 26, 1973, Fairbanks was named head coach of the New England Patriots. His first NFL Draft in 1973 saw the selection of John Hannah, Sam Cunningham, Ray Hamilton, and Darryl Stingley, the first of a solid run of drafts through Fairbanks' tenure with the team. The 1973 season was a 5–9 campaign. 1974 was marred by a league-wide players' strike during training camp and preseason, which actually helped the Patriots as Fairbanks and defensive coordinator Hank Bullough were installing a new system (today known as the Fairbanks-Bullough 3–4, or the 3–4 two-gap system) and with so many players who were not part of the NFLPA at the time, a great deal of training was accomplished, with eighteen first-year players making the roster.[1] The Patriots stormed to a 6–1 start before other teams caught up; they finished 7–7. Fairbanks then had a falling out with quarterback Jim Plunkett, who was traded for important draft picks to San Francisco, and suffered when hardball negotiating tactics by Patriots ownership led to a team-wide player strike that cancelled a preseason game with the New York Jets.[2] The team never recovered en route to a 3–11 season, but an important seed for the future was planted as Fairbanks had drafted quarterback Steve Grogan and Grogan got his first serious game action in 1975.

Fairbanks' Patriots erupted to 11–3 in 1976, a reversal of the 3–11 mark from the year before, and took on the 13–1 Oakland Raiders in the first round of the NFL playoffs. New England led 21–10 entering the fourth quarter, but a controversial roughing the passer call by referee Ben Dreith wiped out a late incompletion by the Raiders, and Raider quarterback Ken Stabler's dive into the end zone with eight seconds remaining gave Oakland the comeback victory. Replays subsequently showed that the Patriots' Ray Hamilton made no illegal contact. The call was condemned for years thereafter and remained a bitter experience for the Patriots organization.

In 1977, contract squabbles with offensive linemen John Hannah and Leon Gray resulted in discord within the team. The incident soured Fairbanks on Chuck Sullivan, who as the eldest son of team owner Billy Sullivan controlled the team's finances and had forced Fairbanks to renege on his proposed contracts with Hannah and Gray. Hannah, denied Fairbanks' promised contract by the ownership team, later argued the Sullivans "took Chuck's authority away and turned him into a liar." [3]

The following year, his division-champion Patriots seemed poised to challenge for a Super Bowl berth, but just prior to the final regular season game, Sullivan suspended Fairbanks for again breaking a contract by agreeing to serve as head coach at the University of Colorado beginning in 1979. Fairbanks was reinstated for the team's first playoff game (and the franchise's first-ever playoff game at home), but the second-seeded Patriots lost 31–14 to the fifth-seed Houston Oilers.

Unwilling to let him leave with as few consequences for his actions as had the Sooners, New England sued Fairbanks for breach of contract. During discovery for the suit, Fairbanks admitted recruiting for Colorado while still working for the Patriots. The Patriots won an injunction preventing Fairbanks from leaving. However, on April 2, 1979, a group of Colorado boosters bought out Fairbanks' contract, allowing him to leave the Patriots. Paul Zimmerman, Sports Illustrated's dean of professional football writers, has speculated that the animus surrounding Fairbanks departure from New England stemmed from the fact that, unlike the late-season departure of New York Jets coach Lou Holtz for Arkansas in 1976, "no one" felt Fairbanks "was a really nice guy."[4]

Return to collegiate ranks

The struggles in obtaining Fairbanks would not be worth the effort when he compiled a dismal 7–26 record in three seasons for Colorado (3–8, 1–10, 3–8).

Fairbanks has been routinely and incorrectly credited for a color switch from black to blue football uniforms in his final season of 1981, which proved unpopular. The color change was mandated by CU's Board of Regents to reflect "the Colorado sky at 9,000 feet," but did not gain support. The school's official colors are silver and gold. A darker shade of blue was introduced in 1984, and black jerseys were worn for the Oklahoma and Nebraska games in Boulder. The black jerseys officially returned in 1985.[5]


Fairbanks resigned from CU on June 1, 1982 to accept the head coaching position with the New Jersey Generals of the fledgling USFL.

Even before coaching his first game in the new league, Fairbanks once again found himself immersed in controversy. Georgia junior Herschel Walker, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, signed with the Generals on February 23, 1983, violating the NCAA's then-unwritten rule to not sign players before they had completed their eligibility.

His time at the helm in New Jersey, like his tenure at Colorado, was met with little success on the field as the Generals finished the 1983 USFL season with a 6–12 record. The poor showing led to Fairbanks' firing. The innovative but scandal-marred coach never again served as either a college or professional coach, but instead worked in the real estate and Golf Course Development Business that included the development of PGA WEST and many other successful California and Arizona communities.


Fairbanks' schemes have influenced many important winning teams in the years following his retirement, among them the New York Giants (under Coach Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin),[citation needed] the Pittsburgh Steelers (under Bill Cowher)[citation needed] and the New England New England Patriots (under Bill Belichick).

In a 2007 press conference, Belichick said the following of Fairbanks: "I think Chuck has had a tremendous influence on the league as well as this organization in terms of nomenclature and terminology and those kinds of things. I'm sure Chuck could walk in and look at our playbook and probably 80 percent of the plays are the same terminology that he used - whether it be formations or coverages or pass protections. We were sitting there talking yesterday and he was saying, 'How much 60 protection are you guys using? How much 80 are you using?' All of the stuff that was really the fundamentals of his system are still in place here even, again, to the way we call formations and plays and coverages and some of our individual calls within a call, a certain adjustment or things that Red (Miller) and Hank (Bullough) and Ron (Erhardt) and those guys used when they were here."[6]

Head coaching record


Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs Coaches# AP°
Oklahoma Sooners (Big Eight Conference) (1967–1972)
1967 Oklahoma 10–1 7–0 1st W Orange 3 3
1968 Oklahoma 7–4 6–1 1st L Bluebonnet 10 11
1969 Oklahoma 6–4 4–3 4th
1970 Oklahoma 7–4–1 5–2 T–2nd T Bluebonnet 15 20
1971 Oklahoma 11–1 6–1 2nd W Sugar 3 2
1972* Oklahoma 11–1* 6–1* 1st* W Sugar 2 2
Oklahoma: 52–15–1 34–8*
Colorado Buffaloes (Big Eight Conference) (1979–1981)
1979 Colorado 3–8 2–5 T–5th
1980 Colorado 1–10 1–6 T–7th
1981 Colorado 3–8 2–5 7th
Colorado: 7–26 5–16
Total: 59–41–1
      National Championship         Conference Title         Conference Division Title


  1. ^ The New England Patriots: Triumph & Tragedy (New York: Atheneum, 1979) by Larry Fox, pp. 199-201
  2. ^ Tales From The Patriots Sideline (Illinois: Sports Publishing LLC, 2006) by Michael Felger, p. 105
  3. ^ Tales From The Patriots Sideline, p. 46
  4. ^ " - A lack of institutional control - Dec 14, 2007". CNN. December 14, 2007. 
  5. ^ David Plati (2007-06-02). "CU Unveils New Football Uniforms". Retrieved 2007-06-19. 
  6. ^ 10/12/2007 Belichick Press Conference New England Patriots Website.

External links

Sporting positions
Preceded by
first coach
New Jersey Generals Head Coach
Succeeded by
Walt Michaels

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