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John Blake, first Black coach in Oklahoma history, dies at 59

July 24 (UPI) -- John Blake, the first Black coach in University of Oklahoma history in any sport, has died. He was 59.

Oklahoma announced Blake's death Thursday. Former Sooners coach Barry Switzer told The Oklahoman, Tulsa World and KWTV Blake had a heart attack while on a walk Thursday morning. He died at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.

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Blake played offensive line under Switzer at Oklahoma from 1979 to 1982, before his career as a football coach.

"I recruited him out of Sand Springs, [Okla.]," Switzer told Tulsa World. "He played for me and captained for me. He coached for me. I was close to John."

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Blake posted a 12-22 record in three seasons as coach of the Sooners from 1996 through 1998. He was hired as the first Black coach in school history on Dec. 31, 1995. Many of his recruits went on to win a national championship with the Sooners in 2000 under coach Bob Stoops.

"I join the entire 'Sooner Nation' in mourning coach Blake's passing," Oklahoma president Joseph Harroz Jr. said in a statement. "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.

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"My sincerest sympathies and prayers are with the Blake family."

Blake began his tenure with the Sooners in 1985 as a student assistant under Switzer. He was a Sooners graduate assistant in 1986 before he became a full-time assistant at Tulsa.

Blake returned to the Sooners' staff in 1989 as a defensive line coach under coach Gary Gibbs. He was the Sooners' linebackers coach from 1990 to 1992.

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Blake also served as the Dallas Cowboys' defensive line coach in 1993. He was a part of two Super Bowl teams while with the Cowboys. Blake also worked as an assistant coach for the Buffalo Bills and at Mississippi State, Nebraska and North Carolina.

"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 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."

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Blake is survived by his wife, Freda, and son Jourdan.

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Richard Thornburgh
Richard "Dick" Thornburgh, former attorney general of the United States and former governor of Pennsylvania, takes a seat at the witness hearing after U.S. Chief Justice nominee Judge John Roberts testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on September 15, 2005. Thornburgh died on December 31 at age 88. Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI | License Photo

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