Former Oklahoma football coach John Blake has died at 59, the school announced Thursday.
Blake, a former Sooners nose guard under Barry Switzer, coached his alma mater from 1996 to 1998 and was an assistant at the college and in the NFL. Switzer told KWTV’s Dean Blevins that Blake died of a heart attack while out walking.
Blake served as an assistant at Tulsa, at Oklahoma and with the Dallas Cowboys before landing the Sooners’ top job at age 34 on Dec. 31, 1995. He became the first Black head coach in any sport in school history and went 12-22 with the Sooners.
“We are stunned and saddened by the news of Coach Blake’s passing,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said in a prepared statement. “He was never hesitant in displaying love for his family, his players or how much he valued the honor of being a Sooner. His legacy as OU’s first Black head coach in any sport is incredibly meaningful and will live on forever. We offer our heartfelt thoughts and our prayers to his family. He was a Sooner through and through.”
Blake went on to coach defensive line at Mississippi State, Nebraska and North Carolina before resigning in 2010 amid an investigation into players’ involvement with agent Gary Wichard, a longtime friend of Blake’s. The NCAA in 2012 gave Blake a three-year show-cause order for his involvement in the North Carolina scandal. He spent his final season in coaching with the Buffalo Bills in 2016.
“The thing I’ve always heard about Coach Blake is how much he loved and cared for his players and how those feelings were reciprocal,” Oklahoma football coach Lincoln Riley said in a prepared statement. “That’s such a profound element of the coaching profession — developing bonds with players that extend beyond the field. Our program is very saddened to learn of Coach Blake’s passing and we extend our deepest condolences to his family.”