Remembering legendary Texas head coach Darrell Royal
By MARTY MULÉ
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
At halftime of the 1965 Texas-Texas A&M football game, the Longhorns found themselves behind their arch-rivals 17-0.
Darrell Royal, head coach of UT, didn’t say a word to the players gathered around him in the locker room, but stood before a blackboard and wrote a series of numbers: 21-17.
His unspoken message to his team was, “Listen to me, this isn’t over. Take care of your assignments in the next 30 minutes and you’ll beat these guys by this score.”
The final: Texas 21, A&M 17.
That extraordinary story tells us something of the remarkable coach and man, who died last week of complications from Alzheimers at age 88.
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Royal was one of the giants of his age, the man who molded the colossus that is now University of Texas athletics, a man who won with uncommon regularity, and a man who won with integrity - not always a characteristic of some of the more eminent figures in that cutthroat profession.
At least partly, that’s the reason for his relatively short head coaching career of 23 years.
To put Royal in context, remember that when he took over Texas at age 32, the ‘Horns were coming off a 1-9-0 season. Under Royal they went 6-4-0, not eye-catching but light years from where they were. In the next 19 seasons, he would not coach a losing team, and in fact, never did, including short sojourns at Mississippi State and Washington (with a combined record of 180-60-5).
There’s more. Consider his peers during his tenure at Texas were such luminaries as Bear Bryant, Woody Hayes, Bud Wilkerson, Ara Parsegian, Frank Broyles, Bob Devaney and Duffy Daugherty.
At the end of the 1976 season, when he retired, Royal, who had a 167-47-5 record at Texas which translated into 11 Southwest Conference championships and three national titles, won more games and lost fewer than any of them in that span.
That’s quite a statistic to digest.
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Known almost as much for his love of country music, quick wit and cut-to-the-chase sayings, many of Royal’s apothegms have become coaching standards:
On players: “A coach likes to have a lot of those old trained pigs who’ll grin and jump right in the slop for him.”
On passing: “When you pass only three things can happen, and two of them are bad.”
On strategy: “Ya dance with the one that brung ‘ya.”
On a fast player: “Qucker than a hiccup.”
On offense: “Sometimes you have to suck it up and call a number.”
On defense: “You never lose if the other team can’t score.”
On ugly wins: “Ol’ Ugly is better than Ol’ Nothing.”
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Royal transformed University of Texas athletics, not only with his uncommon coaching talents but with his imagination as well. Broadcaster Brad Sham wasn’t kidding when he said, “Darrell Royal doesn’t mean anymore to Texas than the Longhorn logo.” It was Royal who came up with the now famed image. It was also Royal who changed Texas’ color from bright orange to burnt orange.
It was also under Royal that the offense switched to a new-fangled formation called the “Wishbone,” and won three national titles with it.
It had a far-reaching effect, because he shared its nuances with Alabama’s Bryant, who used the same offense to win three national championships of his own.
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So how does a coaching wunderkind give up his vocation at the relatively tender age of 52 and spend the next 36 years following the game from a distance? The outlaws that began taking over the game.
Thirty years ago, while researching a Sugar Bowl history, in which Royal played and coached, a call was made to Royal’s office. The pleasant voice of a secretary said he was on his way out of town, but she would pass along the message and my number.
Yeah, sure. I’d been down this road many times before.
A half-hour later, my phone rang. It was Coach Royal calling from the airport. Somewhat flabbergasted, I explained what I wanted. He was friendly, courteous and informative to a sportswriter (and believe me, a lot coaches aren’t) he didn’t know from Adam.
The conversation somehow shifted to his early withdrawal from the sidelines.
The breaking straw he said was the famed spying incident on the Longhorns the week before Texas was to play Oklahoma, and its coach Barry Switzer.
“I’m not saying cheating is something new to football,” Royal said. He said Oklahoma had been breaking rules for a while, even when Switzer was an assistant, and OU was not the only one. “But it’s getting worse now, and more blatant. People like Switzer and those of his ilk are making things intolerable.”
We ended our talk with him asking me to promise that someday I’d write about our conversation.
In one fashion or another, through the years it had been written before.
But the story in its entirety for the first time is here.
Promise kept, Coach.
Marty Mule’ can be reached at MJM981two@charter.net.