Archive for Monday, June 10, 2002

Ex-NU coach Jennings dies

Former Kansas University assistant succumbs to cancer at 84

June 10, 2002

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Bill Jennings, the last Nebraska University football coach with a losing record, died Saturday at his Lawrence home.

He had been suffering from cancer since the mid-1990s.

Jennings, 84, coached the Cornhuskers from 1957 to 1961 and compiled a winning percentage of just .310 (15-34-1). After he was fired, he worked as an assistant coach at Kansas for four years. He returned to Lawrence in 1984 after retiring as a physical education instructor at Denver University.

In a recent interview with the Omaha World-Herald, Jennings said he was most bitter about what happened while he was a coach at Oklahoma.

He was an All-Big Six end in the late 1930s at Oklahoma and an aide under Bud Wilkinson from 1950-55. An NCAA investigation took place after Jennings had left for Nebraska, and when OU was placed on probation in 1960, Jennings was ostracized throughout Oklahoma, including his hometown of Norman, even though he was exonerated by the NCAA.

Still, OU administrators and fans insisted he had been in charge of a slush fund used to pay players, that he tipped off the NCAA to the fund after he left for Nebraska and that he was the one who brought down Wilkinson's program.

"I know this happened 40 years ago and that people today might not care about it, but it's important to me," Jennings told the World-Herald. "Bud refused to take the blame for anything. It all came down on me, and my family paid a heavy price for it. I was run out of my hometown, and that still hurts."

Despite his losing record at Nebraska, Jennings had some memorable victories, notably a 25-21 win over Oklahoma in 1959 which ended the Sooners' 74-game conference unbeaten streak. Jennings' teams also toppled national powers Pittsburgh, Penn State and Texas.

But Nebraska fired him in January of 1962 and brought in Bob Devaney from Wyoming. Jennings was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 1996.

"I really don't think very many people up there understood what it took to win," Jennings said. "But Devaney told them."

Jennings stationed in the Pacific, he served as a captain in the Marine Corps during World War II also worked as athletic director at Washburn University in Topeka.

Memorial services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at First Church of the Nazarene. Burial will be at Memorial Park Cemetery in Tulsa, Okla.

Jennings is survived by wife Mary, daughters Jan Dicker (Lawrence) and Vicki Martin (St. Cloud, Minn.), sister Loretta Towner (Dallas) and brother Roy Jennings (Cherry Valley, Calif.). He is survived by five grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

The family suggests memorials to Hospice Care of Douglas County or Douglas County Visiting Nurses Association or Trinity Respite and may be sent in care of Warren-McElwain Mortuary, 120 W. 13th, Lawrence.

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