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Haskell remains a lost treasure
Former OU athlete, administrator's accomplishments lost over time

Lawrence Haskell is not a household name. Never was, really. Not even during the height of his career. Not even in his hometown of Anadarko, Okla.

Despite all of his accomplishments as an athlete and all of his success as a coach and administrator, Haskell’s legacy has faded with time. The baseball stadium that once bore his name on the University of Oklahoma campus was bulldozed more than 20 years ago, and the mark he made as OU athletics director has been lost in the shadows of those who have followed in his footsteps.

Maybe he is a victim of timing and the fact 43 years have passed since his death. For whatever reason, Haskell has become a somewhat forgotten figure in the present-day perspective of OU athletics.

A closer look at history shows Haskell’s contributions to be significant and his overall impact during his years with the Sooners, profound. He is a man whom surviving contemporaries and former players refer to as “legendary.”

Haskell was a standout performer in football and baseball at OU from 1918-22, earning letters each of those years while playing end and in the outfield. He was captain of the ’21 Sooner football team under coach Bennie Owen, and he went on to receive his BA a year later.

After graduating, Haskell began a coaching career in the high school ranks that eventually led him back to OU. In 1927, he was hired as head baseball coach and freshman football coach, and over the next 14 seasons Haskell earned a reputation as a one of the best in the country. His colorful personality made him a popular figure with his players, despite the fact he was known as a strict disciplinarian who demanded much, both on the field and off.

Oklahoma’s baseball program won or shared eight Big Six Conference championships during Haskell’s tenure, which included a sparkling .702 winning percentage. At one point, his Sooners won a record 29 straight conference home games and his teams graduated several players into the major and minor leagues over the years.

While serving as the line coach on Tom Stidham’s’ varsity football staff for three years, Haskell’s crew led the nation in rushing defense during the 1938 season, allowing an miserly 43.3 yards per game and a single touchdown.

It seemed everything Haskell had a hand in turned to gold.

“I don’t think people realize the impact he had. Jap Haskell was such a positive force for the University of Oklahoma,” said Wade Walker, OU athletics director from 1970-86. “The fact, he was responsible for Bud Wilkinson being at OU is big enough, but he did so many other great things. He was a terrific coach.”

OU officials took notice of Haskell’s work as a coach and he was 43 years old when offered the job of athletics director at OU in 1941. Almost immediately, he became a driving force behind the decision to rejuvenate the school’s football program. But that would have to wait until the end of a three-year stint in the Navy during World War II.

“He wrote me letters all through WWII and he encouraged me to go to OU,” said Norman McNabb, who played football for the Sooners from 1946-50. “Even during his time as a commander in the Navy, he took time to care about what was going on at OU and all of the people back home. He was a special individual.”

In 1945, along with university president Dr. George L. Cross and the OU Board of Regents, Haskell formed a committee charged with finding a new head coach — a venture that led to the hiring of Jim Tatum and a young assistant coach named Bud Wilkinson.

Ironically, it also led to Haskell’s departure from OU a year later.

During a time when he should have been earning praise for helping launch the modern era of football at the University of Oklahoma, Haskell was made the scapegoat by the OU regents for some exorbitant and unauthorized spending by Tatum.

“He got mouse-trapped and it should have never happened. The OU regents didn’t take responsibility for Tatum like they should, and Jap ended up taking the heat,” the late Port Robertson once said. “A lot of people were bitter about that deal because it was totally unfair to a very fine man.”

Robertson, who during a 30-year stay at OU served as head wrestling coach, assistant football and athletic counselor, noted it was Haskell who first recognized the potential brilliance in Wilkinson during the initial interview process.

Even though Wilkinson and others went to bat for him during the Tatum fallout, Haskell was forced to resign. He eventually moved to Tulsa and spent the last 18 years of his life in the insurance business.

“It was truly tragic the way he was treated. He loved the University of Oklahoma, and everyone who followed in his footsteps — Wilkinson, Barry Switzer, Joe Castiglione and all of them — can thank Jap Haskell for his contributions and his vision,” said McNabb. “It’s a shame more people aren’t aware of what he accomplished, not only at OU but throughout his life.”

Haskell was born Nov. 13, 1898, in Butler County, Kan., and moved to Anadarko in 1905. It was there the young man began building the indelible character who would eventually rise to great heights as both a player and collegiate coach.

Jap, as he was known throughout his adult life, was a nickname given to him by the people of Anadarko.

As a teen, Haskell often borrowed his brother Pat’s harness horse, Jasper W., along with his rubber-tired, maple-wheeled buggy, while courting young ladies in Caddo County. Young Haskell was seen so often with the horse, the townsfolk began referring to him by the horse’s name, shortening the Jasper to Jap.

Haskell was a multi-sport standout at Anadarko High School, lettering in football, basketball, baseball and tennis. During his senior season in 1915, he helped lead coach Albert Lott’s AHS football squad to a 6-1-1 record, which was a school best at that time.

A coaching career was the natural progression after finishing a successful career at OU, during which he played on the Sooners’ undefeated football teams of 1919 and ’20. Haskell was a natural teacher and he was honored on more than one occasion for his work with young student-athletes.

“I was never able to understand how Coach Haskell could make you want to give a little bit more than you were capable of giving,” former OU baseball player Eph Moore once said. “I believe his own toughness, his own fierce pride made you want to give, and you knew he demanded a little blood if necessary. He was a great leader, an intensive competitor, and a fine human being.”

The Sooners remained dear to Haskell even years after he left the university under a cloud of controversy. And in 1963, OU honored him at the annual O-Club banquet by naming the new baseball facility, “Haskell Park.” The Salute to Excellence citation that accompanied the honor praised Haskell “for teaching young athletes the lasting values of desire, discipline, excruciating effort and always following the coach’s instructions.”

Nine months later, Haskell died of a heart attack. He was only 65 years old.

According to McNabb and others who knew him, Haskell remains a hidden treasure in OU history. He is a hero who may never again receive the acclaim he is due, but his quiet legacy will live on forever.