STARKVILLE, Miss. - Former Mississippi State head football coach and athletic director Wade Walker, 90, died peacefully in his home on Wednesday, December 18.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, December 28, at 2 p.m. at the Palm Desert Community Presbyterian Church in Palm Desert, Calif. A reception will follow the service at the church. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission or the Alzheimer’s Association Research Foundation or a charity of choice.
Walker was recruited by his best friend and teammate, Darryl Royal, to be an assistant coach at Mississippi State in 1954. He was promoted to head coach in 1956 and named Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year in 1957. Walker also served as athletic director at State from 1959-66.
During his tenure, Walker was instrumental in breaking down racial segregation in sports. Whlie at MSU In 1963, he defied a court order, issued by the governor, to help the MSU men’s basketball team (all white) to travel north and play a NCAA tournament game against Loyola of Chicago (containing African-American players). Walker later commented, “There I was, acting like a fugitive and running from the law because I was doing something I believed was right.”
Born on November 29, 1923, to George and Ella Walker in Mocksville, North Carolina, Walker’s extensive athletic career started early as he received All-State honors as a high school football player in Gastonia, N.C. Following high school, he was drafted into the U.S. Navy during World War II, and served as a machinist. Walker was stationed at the Jacksonville, Fla., U.S. Naval Air Station, where his football career resumed for the next three years.
After completing his tour of duty, Walker was recruited by his former football coach, Jim Tatum, to play at the University of Oklahoma. He played for four years, and was showered with multiple honors and accolades. Walker was named Big Six All-Conference player all four years, Oklahoma Player of the Year and first-team All-American in 1949. He also served as co-captain of his Sooner team under Bud Wilkinson and led them to a Sugar Bowl victory in 1949. He was selected by the Chicago Cardinals in the NFL draft, but opted to pursue a coaching career instead.
Walker held jobs as an assistant coach at both North Carolina State University and Texas Tech University. As previously mentioned, he was then recruited by his friend and teammate, Royal, to come to MSU in 1954, where he worked for 12 years.
Walker returned to the University of Oklahoma in 1971 to become the school’s athletic director. During his tenure, the Sooners compiled six national championships in both men’s and women’s sports. Walker served as Athletic Director until he retired in 1986. He moved to La Quinta, Calif., to live out his life, where he frequently stated “every day in the desert is like Christmas”.
Walker is survived by his beloved wife Jean Herman Walker, married for 65 years. He is survived by five children: Carol (Roger) Simmons of Vicksburg, Miss.; Ron (Karen) Walker of Carrollton, Texas; Gary (Debbie) Walker of La Quinta, Calif.; Anne (Paula) Walker of Lancaster, Calif.; Win (Mandy) Walker of Mount Pleasant, S.C. Walker is also survived by sixteen grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.