Bring up the name Bobby Proctor to long time OU football fans and you’ll hear words like intense, gritty, fierce, intimidating, and motivating. Ask Bobby Proctor to describe himself and he would tell you he’s blessed.
From his playing days through his coaching career, Proctor experienced a series of life defining moments that he looks back on now with both fondness and wonder. Nothing came easy for the Arkansas native, but in the end he’s had an excellent ride.
The first twist of fate that started him on the road to a life in college football occurred when he had completed junior college in Texas and was ready to continue his playing career at Wyoming, hundreds of miles from anywhere he’d ever been, because they had called and offered him a chance to play.
“I was hitchhiking back from Galveston, TX and a couple picks me up and they asked me where I was going to school,” said Proctor. “When I said Wyoming, the lady told me they just let their coach go. So I get back to school and talked to our coach and he said (Bowden) Wyatt wasn’t fired, he’s going to Arkansas. I get a call about two weeks later and Wyatt said ‘do you want to come to Arkansas? I’ll give you a scholarship’.”
“All my life, I grew up in Arkansas, dreamed about going to Arkansas. Hell, I couldn’t wait to get there. It all works out in a pattern sometimes. But that was the biggest change that’s ever happened to anybody.”
Proctor stayed on at Arkansas and became a graduate assistant, working with the freshman team. One of his pupils there was none other than Barry Switzer.
“Go back longer with him than anyone else,” Switzer said. “When I was a freshman at the University of Arkansas, the first coach I reported to was Bobby Proctor. He was my freshman coach and I have had a relationship with him for 60 years.”
Before that relationship would become a working one, Proctor had to wander through the proverbial coaching desert, making stops at several beleaguered programs along the way. In the next 18 years he was an assistant at Tennessee (for Wyatt), Georgia, Mississippi State, and Vanderbilt – with a six week interruption to take a job at Memphis State before returning to Vanderbilt, where he was left jobless when the staff was removed in 1972. Just when it appeared that Proctor was headed to another downtrodden program, fate intervened again.
“I’ll never forget watching the Sugar Bowl (between Oklahoma and Penn State) and I told my wife ‘wouldn’t it be a great thrill to be able to go to Oklahoma and coach’,” Proctor said. “I was getting ready to go to North Carolina to visit for a job and (OU assistant) Billy Michaels called me and said ‘Switzer wants to talk to you’ and I said don’t hang up. In the meantime, Switzer called me and said ‘we need a secondary coach, you were recommended, so come out and visit’.”
Switzer had just taken over for Chuck Fairbanks and actually planned to offer the job to then-Nebraska assistant Warren Powers until the new Sooners head man found out his new team was going to be slapped with a major probation.
“I called Warren and told him not to come,” said Switzer. “I couldn’t let him walk into this situation. So then, I called Proctor and told him, we were fixing to go on probation, but you’ve got a job here coaching the secondary if you want it. We’ll be on probation for a couple of years. He said ‘I’ll be there in the morning. Coaching at Vanderbilt is like being on permanent probation’. I laughed about that for years. At that point and time, being at Vanderbilt really was like being on permanent probation.”
“I had never been on winning football teams very much. It was just a new life for me, it was a new life for my family,” said Proctor. “When I was inducted in the Hall of Fame in Arkansas, I told Switzer ‘Coach, you changed my whole life. You could have hired anybody in the country. My family and I thank you.’
“When I left Vanderbilt, I made a statement that going from Vanderbilt to Oklahoma is like going from hell to heaven,” Proctor said. “What I mean was at Vanderbilt we had five defensive backs that had to rotate. Going to Oklahoma, we had three deep. That makes it a lot easier to coach.”
Besides the step up in the caliber of athletes and competition, Proctor also encountered some else a coach of his upbringing wasn’t quite ready for. He soon realized that times were changing and he had to grudgingly change with them.
“At Vanderbilt, they couldn’t have long hair, mustaches, nothing. I was really strict,” said Proctor.” So I get to Oklahoma and some of ‘em got mustaches, some of ‘em got Afros and one day after practice I told my wife “I believe I’m gonna join them. I’m not gonna join the other side.” And Switzer kinda talked me into one time going with an Afro. It didn’t take me long to realize that just because a kid had a mustache, long hair or Afro, it didn’t mean they weren’t good young kids and good football players. “
Proctor prowled the sidelines with a ferocity that was ramped up even more during practices, which were open to the public and media during his coaching time. He struck fear in the hearts of first year players who would become his staunchest allies as they grew older.
“He was fair but tough,” said Switzer. “He was as tough on first teamers as he was on third teamers. He ate everybody out.”
One of the players that drew Proctor’s wrath was future NFL defensive back Darrol Ray.
“First game, freshman year, pregame, hour and 20 minutes before kickoff, we’re out just to do a light warm-up. It’s about a hundred degrees so it doesn’t take much to get started. I notice that there’s probably 10-15 thousand fans but they’re closer to where we are working out,” Ray said. “We’re just going through the line, helmet and shoulder pads, I get my chance and dig in, kind of run into a guy, and then the wind changes. I looked up and this guy is running at me, grabs my facemask and says ‘you’ll never play here!’ He’s gripped my helmet with both of his hands and he’s shaking it back and forth, so I flipped it off and let him have it. And he says ‘get out there and hit somebody’. I’m thinking holy cow, what happened, we don’t even have our pads in yet.”
“So I go to the end of the line and Jerry Anderson comes up to me and says ‘don’t worry about it rookie, he picks on one every year. You’ll be alright’. As I look in the stands, there’s people dying laughing because Bobby Proctor has picked out his new whipping boy for the year and I happen to be him. That’s the fall of 1976.”
After being shell shocked that day, Ray began to understand the method of Proctor’s madness.
“I notice the first game of my junior year, I was team captain, and he got somebody by the face mask and I notice some of the same old crowd was there that had been laughing at me two years earlier and they’re laughing at the new guy and I’m the one that has to go up and calm him. There’s the full circle on Bobby Proctor.”
Now, 35 years later, Ray laughs about a photo with Proctor hanging on the wall of his Lindsey Street barbecue restaurant that bears the caption “You’ll Never Play, Ray.”
Proctor also became famous for a phrase that both he and Switzer would both shout at the top of their lungs when a defensive player had a chance to intercept a pass. You could hear “Oskie” over the noise of the crowd and see Proctor jumping up and down, imploring his team to turn things around. Just where did that phrase originate?
“General (Bob) Neyland (legendary Tennessee coach) made up ‘Oskie’,” Proctor said. He was a great guy. When I was at Tennessee, he would come out and sit all day. He would say ‘Oskie wow wow’. Go from defense to offense. When I was at Arkansas, we would call it Oskie, but when I went to Tennessee, I realized where it came from.
After 19 years at OU and 37 years as a college football assistant, Proctor was unceremoniously dumped by Gary Gibbs in what led to legal action and a bitter split. One year from having tenure at OU, Proctor eventually received a legal settlement after suing the school and hard feelings persisted for a time. But his longtime friend Switzer helped him realize that once again, the sudden change of direction would turn out to be beneficial.
“When Gibbs fired me, Switzer told me ‘You will learn how to live. You’re gonna be home Thanksgiving. You have a chance to be with your kids’,” Proctor said. “I didn’t realize what it meant. But after a year or so, I did. You can’t coach the rest of your life. I’m still close to him (Switzer). He invites me to most of the things they have. I’m still a part of it. It’s really been enjoyable. I learned to get out and enjoy myself.”
These days, Proctor keeps a home in Norman but spends a great deal of time in his trailer at Soldier Creek on Lake Texoma, fishing until his heart’s content.
“They call it the redneck trailer because the deck’s worth more than the trailer,” said Proctor. “I get to come down here and stay and my son, Scooter, has a trailer down here and we fish a lot together and with the other two boys. One night we caught nearly a hundred stripers, the four of us. Scooter got one that weighed 22 pounds and I got one 19 pounds. I have a boat, we go out some. I used to sit down here in the spring and out of 30 days, I’ll spend 20 days and fish then go back home. I really enjoy it. We’ve met lots of good people down here.”
When he looks back at the twists and turns his life took during his football career, Proctor still can’t help but shake his head in amazement.
“Sometimes, I think I’d like to sit down and write a book about all the places I’ve been and all the things I’ve done. It’s unbelievable how you end up,” Proctor said. “It was a great run. I always look back and say we won’t take a back seat to anybody. We had three national championships- played for six and won three. I hope Coach Stoops gets the same thing, because he’s a great guy, he’s done a great job.”
“All the kids and grandkids are all right here. I’ll be 85 in November. Switzer called me and said, ‘Doctor, we’re in overtime’. I said maybe it’ll last, like Arkansas had five overtimes one year. It’s a good life, good people. I can’t wait for football season to start. “
(Content updated from original story in Sept. 2014 issue of Sooner Spectator magazine)