Emory Bellard, creator of wishbone, dies

Updated: February 10, 2011, 5:09 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

DALLAS -- Emory Bellard, a former Texas A&M and Mississippi State coach credited with developing the wishbone offense when he was an assistant at Texas, died Thursday. He was 83.

Cathy Capps, director of the Texas A&M Lettermen's Association, said Bellard died at a care facility in Georgetown in Central Texas. She said Bellard had Lou Gehrig's disease.

Bellard
Bellard

Bellard was on Darrell Royal's staff at Texas in 1968 when the Longhorns developed a formation with three running backs that came to be known as the wishbone.

"Not only was he an outstanding coach as far as X's and O's were concerned, he taught well -- he was an excellent teacher of the game," Royal said in a statement. "To say he was an important member of our staff at that time is an understatement. He was a true friend, and that didn't change whether he was in Austin, College Station or Starkville."

Bellard coached at Texas high schools for more than two decades and won three state titles. His success landed him on the Texas staff, and while other assistants relaxed during the summer before the 1968 season, Bellard was busy trying to figure out a way to utilize a strong group of running backs after Texas endured three straight mediocre seasons.

Bellard's idea was to put a third running back a yard behind the quarterback, flanked by two more running backs a few yards behind to form what looked like a "Y." Quarterbacks had three options -- hand off to the fullback, keep the ball or pitch to one of the other running backs.

The wishbone was similar to the two-back veer, which Houston was using to become a threat in the Southwest Conference. The Longhorns rode Bellard's modification to a national championship in 1969, and Oklahoma made the offense nearly unstoppable in the 1980s.

"People all over the country and different levels of football adopted that offense," said former Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum, who was hired as an assistant by Bellard in 1972. "I think he was proud that the game he cared so much about, that he was able to make a significant contribution to it."

Slocum also credited Bellard with being among the first football coaches in Texas to recruit black players.

"I don't think he ever got the full credit for what he really did," Slocum said.

Bellard had a 48-27 record in seven years at Texas A&M before resigning during the 1978 season. He led A&M to three straight bowl games, including a win in the 1977 Sun Bowl. He was 37-42 in seven seasons at Mississippi State.

"From a historical standpoint, few men have ever done what he and Coach Royal did with the wishbone," Texas coach Mack Brown said in a statement. "They created a formation that brought an entirely new concept to the game of football.

"More than that, he was a great ambassador for the coaching profession, from the high school coaches to the assistants to head coaches who followed him. He had great ideas and was always willing to help young coaches by sharing them. He will always have a special place when it comes to Longhorn football."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.