Published November 20, 2014
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 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.
"To say he was an important member of our staff at that time is an understatement," Royal said. "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 at the beginning and end of his career, winning three state titles from 1958-66. 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 1970s and '80s.
"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.