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Legendary coach and A.D., Wally Bullington, dies at 87

By on July 20, 2018 in Sports with 0 Comments

Beloved Abilene Christian University football coach and athletics administrator Foy Wallace “Wally” Bullington died Friday following an illness at age 87.

The visitation is set for Friday, July 27, from 5-7 p.m. at Piersall Funeral Home at 733 Butternut. The memorial service will be Saturday, July 28, at 2 p.m. at Highland Church of Christ. Please wear purple in honor of Coach Bullington.

Bullington was perhaps the central figure in ACU Athletics since 1950, having served his alma mater for 39 years as a football player, assistant football coach, head football coach and athletics director before retiring in 1988. He began fundraising work as director of athletics emeritus in 2002. Only A.B. Morris was director of athletics at ACU longer than Bullington, who earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education (1953) and a M.Ed. degree (1956), both from Abilene Christian.

“Coach Bull was one of the most amazing leaders I’ve ever known,” ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert said. “He was passionate in his love for ACU and he exemplified so much of what we stand for. He demanded excellence from everyone, but he always set that expectation for himself first. He loved others deeply and constantly sought opportunities to serve. He was courageous and never doubted God’s presence and provision. Quite simply, he was a Godly man who made all of us who knew him well better. To say that Coach Bull will be dearly missed doesn’t even begin to describe the kind of impact he had in this life. I hope they have football in heaven.”

Bullington had a 62-32-2 record in nine seasons (1968-76) as ACU’s head coach, including the Wildcats’ first NAIA Division I national championship in 1973. He coached six first-team All-America players, including eventual all-pro running back Wilbert Montgomery.

In 1969, Bullington became ACU’s director of athletics and presided over the Wildcats’ transition from NAIA to NCAA Division II. While he was A.D., ACU won 17 national titles, including another national football championship in 1977, and 41 Lone Star Conference crowns. However, his players knew that football and championships weren’t the most important thing to Bullington.

“The most important thing was that we were going to honor God and we were going to do the right thing and we were going to grow into men,” former ACU wide receiver and Sports Hall of Fame member Pat Holder said. “That was a given. When I was in high school, I knew nothing Abilene Christian or Abilene Christian football, but I came to the realization that Abilene Christian was where I needed to be, and the decision to play for Coach Bullington is one of the best I’ve made in my life.”

Born May 17, 1931, in Athens, Alabama, he graduated from Athens High School in 1949, when he played in the Alabama North-South All-Star football game. Bullington was named to the All-Southern team in 1948 as a linebacker and center.

He turned down a scholarship offer from Auburn University to attend ACU, where he lettered four years, helping lead the 1950 team to the only undefeated, untied football season (11-0) in school history. A center, linebacker and punter for the Wildcats, he was named All-Texas Conference in 1950, 1951 and 1952, and received first team All-America honors in 1952 as a center.

“My dad (Clifford Bullington) always wanted me to go to a Christian school and Abilene Christian was about the only Church of Christ school playing football at the time,” Bullington said in the winter of 2017. “My dad was a very strong leader in the church and was an elder for more than 40 years. Every time a coach came into our living room on a recruiting visit – be it a coach from Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, LSU or wherever – my dad would tell them what he really wanted was for ‘Wallace’ – he always called me that – to go to a Christian school. He got that in every time.”

His decision to attend Abilene Christian was fortuitous for both he and and the university. He met his eventual wife, Valerie Darden, at ACU and they were married Dec. 22, 1952, a union that lasted 65-plus years, and the lives he touched as a coach and administrator are countless.

“Coach Bullington has been a big part of so many aspects of my life,” former defensive lineman Dub Stocker said. “It’s hard to believe the impact he’s had on so many people and that he was only the head coach for nine seasons. He never once stopped thinking about the importance of having a Christian university and one that was intentionally Christian in every way. Most of us showed up as 18-year-old young men under his care and left as 21- or 22-year-old young men changed forever because of his love and devotion to Jesus Christ.”

Abilene High School won three state championships in football with Bullington as an assistant coach. As head coach of the Eagles, he directed his teams to a record of 40-19-1 in six seasons (1960-65). He also taught history at AHS (1953-66) and served on the board of directors of the Texas High School Coaches Association.

After serving as the head coach at Abilene High, he eventually worked his way back to ACU in 1968, becoming the head coach of a football program in need of a kick-start. He provided it, jump-starting the most successful period of ACU football in its history. The success continued even after his resignation as the head coach as Dewitt Jones took over the team and won the program’s second NAIA Division I national championship in 1977.

“I love that man,” Jones said with a catch in his voice. “When we won the national championship in 1977, the first person to greet me was Wally Bullington. I can’t say enough things about Wally. He’s been my mentor, my confidante and my big brother and I love him dearly. We would still talk probably three or four times a week, and I loved sitting in his golf cart – ‘The Bully Mobile’ – and talking about different things while we watched football practice.”

After stepping down as the head coach, Bullington turned his attention full-time to his role as the director of athletics, and one of his best decisions was to hire Wes Kittley as the ACU women’s track and field coach in 1983. Kittley became the head coach of both the men’s and women’s teams in 1993 and served as the Wildcats’ head coach until 1999, winning 29 NCAA Division II national championships between the two programs. He’s currently the director of track and field at Texas Tech University where he is about to start his 20th season in charge of the programs.

“Coach Bullington pulled me aside one day and asked me if I was was ready for one of the greatest opportunities of my life, and I asked him, ‘well, coach, what do you have in mind?’ ” Kittley said. “He asked how I would feel about coaching the women’s track team and I about passed out. What he did for me meant everything. I was just a young man who was probably going to coach high school when I finished my master’s at ACU. But it’s amazing the route that I’ve been able to travel because he came down to the track one day and saw something in a young man that I didn’t even see in myself. That tells you a lot about him and his insight into people.”

Kittley has gone on to become one of the most successful collegiate track and field coaches in the country having just led the Texas Tech men’s team to a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Division I outdoor national championship meet. But none of it would have happened had not Bullington made the fateful decision to throw him to the wolves when even Kittley didn’t know if he was ready.

“He was always so proud of Wes Kittley, and that meant so much to me then, and I can’t even begin to say how much it means to me now,” Kittley said. “Up until a couple of weeks ago, I would still get phone calls from him just checking on me, and I’ll bet a lot of his former players were getting those same phone calls. When he called me he didn’t want to know anything besides how fast our 4×400 relay was going to be that year. It was his way of encouraging his men. It’s incredible how much love and respect I had for him when I was working at ACU, and that only multiplied in the years since I’ve been away because I realize he gave me the first opportunity I had in this business to do what I love to do.”

Bullington was voted to ACU’s Football Team of the Decade (1950s) and its Team of the Century. He was inducted to the ACU Sports Hall of Fame (1993), Lone Star Conference Hall of Honor (1999), and his hometown Limestone County (Alabama) Sports Hall of Fame (2005).

Bullington was a first lieutenant in the 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard (1951-62), program coordinator for Herald of Truth (1966-68), an elder for Abilene’s Highland Church of Christ (1974-86), and a board member for the Abilene Independent School District.

His life of service to his faith, to his family, to ACU, to his players and to his community is something that those who knew him best will never forget.

“It’s hard to find the words to describe Wally Bullington,” Montgomery said. “It’s hard to say what he’s really meant as one of his former players. When I think of Wally, I think of a man who has a master’s degree in loving people and getting the best out of people. Wally was always straightforward with you, right or wrong. If he said something, you could believe it was the right thing at the right time.

“He never misled people and he always gave you information that would help you, no matter what the situation might be,” he said. “I can’t say it enough: Wally Bullington is Abilene Christian University athletics. And he always will be.”

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