The University of Oklahoma was saddened to learn of the passing of Wade Walker, who earned All-America honors as an offensive tackle in 1949 and later served as OU’s director of athletics from 1970-86.
One of three players in OU Football history to earn all-conference honors four consecutive years, Walker served as director of athletics at Mississippi State from 1956-66 after also holding the position of head football coach at Mississippi from 1956-61. He arrived in Starkville, Miss., as an assistant on Darrell Royal’s staff from 1954-55 before Royal accepted the head coaching post at the University of Washington. Walker also enjoyed stints as an assistant football coach at North Carolina State and Texas Tech.
“Wade’s many contributions to the University of Oklahoma will long be appreciated by Sooners everywhere,” said OU vice president and director of athletics Joe Castiglione. “As an All-America player, he served as a team captain for Bud Wilkinson as he built the football program into a national powerhouse.
“More importantly, Wade’s legacy as OU’s longtime director of athletics ushered in an era of opportunities for women to represent the University of Oklahoma on officially sanctioned intercollegiate athletics teams. In addition to a litany of championship teams fielded many numerous sports, his vision for developing new facilities and improving existing OU venues is a thumbprint that still remains very visible on our campus to this day.”
During his 18 seasons as director of athletics, the Sooners won six national championships – football (3), men’s gymnastics (2) and wrestling (1). Oklahoma also claimed 43 conference titles during that time frame, led by football (12). Walker’s tenure also marked the initial women’s intercollegiate athletics squads sponsored by the University of Oklahoma during the 1974-75 academic year. In total, OU women’s programs claimed 10 conference championships under his guidance – women’s tennis (4), women’s gymnastics (3), women’s golf (2) and women’s basketball (1).
Walker’s list of other lasting contributions to the University of Oklahoma is well documented. Head coach Barry Switzer was hired to guide OU’s football fortunes during his tenure, but major facilities upgrades also occurred under his watch. The Lloyd Noble Center became a reality, as did additions to Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium that included the present upper deck and press box on the west side of the facility, as well as the south end zone stands that included offices, locker rooms and support facilities. OU’s baseball facility, L. Dale Mitchell Park, and the Viersen Gymnastics Center were constructed during his tenure, as well as Mosier Indoor Facility and the Wilkinson House residence hall.
The Mocksville, N.C., native began his career at Oklahoma in 1946 under head coach Jim Tatum, who was succeeded by the legendary Bud Wilkinson the following season. Walker was an instrumental member of an Oklahoma blocking unit that helped the Sooners capture four straight conference championships. Walker helped pave the way for three different OU running backs who led the league in both rushing and scoring – Joe Golding (1946), George Brewer (1947) and George Thomas (1949).
During his tenure as a student-athlete in Norman, the Sooners lost only one conference game and began their famed 47-game winning streak under Wilkinson. Walker served as a team captain as a senior in 1949 when OU registered a perfect 11-0 record, capped with a 35-0 win in the Sugar Bowl. He was drafted in the 22nd round of the 1947 NFL Draft by the Chicago Cardinals.