Former Oklahoma head coach John Blake dies at age 59

Former Oklahoma head coach John Blake has died, the university confirmed. He was 59 years old. 

Longtime Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer told Dean Blevins of News9 in Oklahoma City that Blake suffered a heart attack while out on a walk earlier Thursday.

"We are stunned and saddened by the news of Coach Blake's passing,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said. “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 played nose guard for the Sooners under Switzer from 1979 to 1982 before embarking on a lengthy coaching career. Blake’s first stop was Tulsa before four seasons as an Oklahoma assistant. 

From there, Blake became the defensive line coach of the Dallas Cowboys, winning two Super Bowl rings in the process — including one under Switzer, who coached the Cowboys from 1994 to 1997. 

First Black head football coach in Oklahoma history

After three years in Dallas, Blake was hired as the head coach of his alma mater, becoming the first and only Black head football coach in Oklahoma history.

Blake inherited a team that went 5-5-1 in its lone season under Howard Schnellenberger. In three years, (1996-98) Blake would amass just a 12-22 overall record before he was fired after his third season. However, Blake recruited many of the players that made up the core of Oklahoma’s 2000 national championship-winning squad under Bob Stoops. 

"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,” Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley said. “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. Everything I know about him is that he loved being a Sooner."

Added Oklahoma president Joseph Harroz Jr.: “I join the entire Sooner Nation in mourning Coach Blake's passing. His years of service to our University and Sooner football were critical building blocks to our program's success and the impact he had on our student-athletes is indelible. My sincerest sympathies and prayers are with the Blake family."

Blake resurfaced at Mississippi State in 2003 and would go on to coach the defensive line at Nebraska (2004-06), North Carolina (2007-10) and for the Buffalo Bills (2016) before walking away from coaching. 

After news of Blake’s death surfaced, many paid tribute to him on social media.

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