Fairbanks was selected to replace Mallory in December 1978; the story was broke by the late Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football. But he was still under contract to the New England Patriots, and a legal battle ensued. Once the court process played out, CU owed the Patriots over $200,000 and Fairbanks was finally able to take over the Buffaloes on April 4, 1979.
CU never attained the success that the late athletic director Eddie Crowder had hoped under Fairbanks, going 7-26 in three seasons. But Fairbanks was still slated to coach at least a fourth year in Boulder, until he was hired away by the New Jersey Generals of the fledgling United States Football League on June 1, 1982.
“When I got hired, I replaced Chuck and I had one meeting with him,” McCartney said. “He said to me, ‘If I had it to do over again, knowing what I know now after three years, I would recruit California and Texas hard. That would be where I would put my recruiting emphasis.’”
“I found that to be very enlightening, and over time, I realized that he was right. And that’s really how we rose to the top. His words were wise and prophetic.”
The two didn’t meet again until late December in 1994, and this meeting has never been public before this story: after McCartney announced his retirement from coaching, his last game was against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. After one of the bowl practices, when most everyone else had cleared out, Fairbanks approached a staff member and asked to see McCartney.
“He wanted to congratulate me,” McCartney said. “He thought we had answered the challenge of the program and brought it to where we all thought it potentially could be. It was generous of him to come by, and he did it with intentionality and I very much appreciated him taking the time to visit with me.”
Fairbanks made a name for himself at the University of Oklahoma, where he compiled a 52-15-1 record as the Sooners' head coach from 1967-72.
“The Oklahoma Football family is saddened by the passing of Chuck Fairbanks, who holds a memorable place in Sooners’ history,” said OU head coach Bob Stoops. “His squads won three Big 8 championships and helped lay the foundation for the program’s ongoing success with the installation of the wishbone-T offense. Chuck possessed an exceptional eye for talent, recruiting talented players like Heisman winner Steve Owens and enabling innovative assistant coaches like Barry Switzer to thrive.
“I was fortunate to have many opportunities to get to know Chuck over the years,” Stoops continued. “He often visited his daughter in Norman around Thanksgiving, and I enjoyed our conversations when he attended practice. We offer our prayers and condolences to Chuck’s family and the many individuals he touched during his time at the University of Oklahoma.”
The 16th head coach in Oklahoma history, Fairbanks won three Big 8 Conference titles (1967, 1968 and 1972). He had 24 players earn all-league honors, while nine received All-America accolades. Fairbanks also coached the 1969 Heisman Trophy winner, running back Steve Owens. He posted a 3-1-1 bowl record with the Sooners playing in a pair of Sugar and Bluebonnet bowls and one Orange Bowl.
Fairbanks took over the Sooners’ coaching reins after Jim Mackenzie passed away from a heart attack following the 1966 season. He immediately guided OU to a 10-1 record and a Big 8 title with the lone blemish on his rookie record coming by a narrow 9-7 margin vs. Texas. Fairbanks posted back-to-back 11-1 campaigns in 1971 and 1972 as the Sooners registered Sugar Bowl wins over Auburn and Penn State.
Fairbanks was the first OU coach to use the wishbone-T formation, a triple-option offensive attack that Texas used on its way to the 1969 national title. The wishbone-T became the backbone of OU's offensive dynasty for the next 20 years.
In 1973, Fairbanks left OU to coach in the NFL for the New England Patriots. During his six-year tenure as New England’s head coach, Fairbanks produced a 46-41 record as the Patriots earned a Wild Card spot in 1976 and won the AFC East in 1978, marking the club’s first division title since 1963.
Fairbanks began his coaching career at Ishpeming High School in Michigan. From there, he went to Arizona State (under head coach Frank Kush) and Houston (under head coach Bill Yeoman) before coming to OU as a defensive backfield coach in 1966. As a player at Michigan State, Fairbanks played offensive end on the Spartans' 1952 national championship team. In 1954, he concluded his playing career by earning a berth in the Blue-Grey All-Star Game.
Former CU linebacker and punter Steve Doolittle played two seasons under Fairbanks.
“Chuck came on board in 1979 and he brought the pro approach,” Doolittle said. “The guys we had at the time didn't understand this type of treatment. After all we were brainwashed by Bill Mallory the disciple of Woody Hayes. We even wore wool socks when it was 100 degrees outside.
“Chuck was a far superior coach in technique and finesse,” Doolittle continued. “He had a thousand more tools than his predecessor. In hindsight, the outcome was predictable. We had Mark Haynes and Stan Brock picked in the first round off a 3-8 team. A year later, I was an honorable mention All-American linebacker and picked for the Blue Gray, Hula and Senior Bowl teams and I was on a 1-10 team. So some things worked. We had some great athletes and their destiny was planned, however we had far more underachievers who worked their butts off and it worked under Mallory.”
Fairbanks third team in 1981 also went 3-8, winning its opener, homecoming and senior day games.
“It just didn’t work with Chuck as he brought the pro game down to young guys who couldn't handle the curriculum at the time,” Doolittle said. “He really was a class guy and I don't believe he failed Colorado, it was a different time and perhaps the tools just were not there. He had success wherever he was. I admired him and thought he was a very good coach, at least in the eyes of a 21 year old. And he never lied to us.”
(Thanks to our good friends at Oklahoma Sports Information for providing content for this report.)