One of football's innovators, Royal left lasting impact with Longhorns
Few coaches delivered so many memorable quotes as Darrell Royal:
"He could run like a small-town gossip."
"Breaks balance out. The sun don't shine on the same dog's rear end every day."
"Some of [my players] are so green you could hide 'em on top of a lettuce leaf."
And, perhaps most famously, "You dance with who brung ya."
But Royal, who died Wednesday at 88 after a long fight with Alzheimer's disease, was more than just a fount of Southwest-tinged wisdom. He was one college football's signature coaches, the man who resurrected a listless University of Texas program, leading to Longhorns to a 167-47-5 record over 20 years, 16 bowl berths, 11 Southwest Conference titles and parts of three national championships.
Along with assistant coach Emory Bellard he developed the Wishbone offense in 1968 that ground down opponents and whose potency impressed some of the top coaches in the game. Chuck Fairbanks and later Barry Switzer adopted the wishbone for Oklahoma, and Bear Bryant did the same at Alabama. The Wishbone helped add three more national titles to Bryant's resume.
Texas rode the Wishbone to 30 straight wins, including the 1969 national title that featured a come-from-behind nationally televised 15-14 win over Arkansas before a crowd that included President Richard Nixon.
When Notre Dame finally ended Texas' winning streak at the 1971 Cotton Bowl by forcing six Longhorn turnovers, Royal said, "I never said the Wishbone won a single game. Angry people win football games."
Royal was not an angry man. The native of Hollis, Okla., was a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Corps and a former quarterback/defensive back at Oklahoma who knew how to persuade players and coaches without much hootin' or hollerin.'
"He was probably the quietest football coach I ever knew," Keith Jackson once observed. "He wasn't a shouter. He would talk to you with some force but usually he would explain carefully what you were trying to do and why you were failing to get there. He usually got his message across."
Longtime SI college football writer Dan Jenkins was impressed with how well Royal bonded with Longhorns fans and alumni.
"Darrell's association with Texas fans was more intimate [than other coaches]," Jenkins told the
After coaching two seasons at Mississippi State and one at Washington, Royal arrived at Austin in 1957 to find the Texas football program in tatters. The '56 Longhorns had gone winless in the Southwest Conference and finished 1-9.
Texas never had a losing season under Royal. It tied for the Southwest Conference title in 1959 and 1961 and won the SWC crown outright in 1962 with an unbeaten regular season.
Everything clicked for Royal and Texas in 1963. The Longhorns routed No. 1 Oklahoma 28-7 early on and finished the regular season 10-0. Texas then battered No. 2 Navy and Roger Staubach 28-6 in the Cotton Bowl to win its first national championship.
But after another strong season (10-1) in 1964 that featured a 21-17 upset of No. 1 Alabama and Joe Namath in the Orange Bowl, Texas began to slip. After losing only three games total between 1961 and 1964, the Longhorns lost four games in 1965, four in 1966 and four more in '67.
Some critics said this was because Texas refused to recruit black players. The SWC had begun to integrate in 1966 when SMU coach Hayden Fry recruited wingback Jerry Levias. The Mustangs finished the '66 season in the Cotton Bowl.
Michigan State All-American defensive end Bubba Smith of Beaumont often said he wanted to play at Texas but was not recruited. The same was true of his Spartans teammate, wide receiver Gene Washington, another Texas native.
Royal did change but not his all-white recruiting. After an 0-1-1 start to the '68 season he and Ballard put James Street at quarterback and instituted the Wishbone. Street lined up behind center, with three running backs behind him, which formed the shape of a Y.
Street could hand off to the first back through the middle, keep the ball or sprint outside with a trailing back awaiting a last-second pitch. On rare occasion the quarterback could even drop back and pass, but Royal's view of the forward pass was summed up in the famous dictum: "Three things can happen whenever you throw a football and two of them are bad."
The Longhorns won their final nine games in '68, scoring more than 30 points eight times.
More of the same followed in 1969. When No. 1 Ohio State was stunned by Michigan on Nov. 22, Texas took over the top spot and prepared to meet No. 2 Arkansas on Dec. 6 in Fayetteville. Beano Cook and Roone Arledge at ABC had decided to switch the game from its original Oct. 18 date, guessing correctly that it would have far more importance. Royal said the move made ABC "look smarter than a tree full of owls."
Texas trailed 14-0 after three quarters but a 42-yard Street touchdown run, a two-point conversion and a short Jim Bertlesen touchdown that was set up by a daring 44-yard fourth-down Street to Randy Peschel pass gave Texas the 15-14 win. After the game, Nixon presented Royal with a plaque calling the Longhorns the nation's best team even though Penn State was also undefeated at 10-0.
The Longhorns rallied to beat Notre Dame in the 1970 Cotton Bowl and became the last all-white team to win a major college national football title.
Texas finished the 1970 season 11-0 to win the coaches' national championship but the 24-11 Cotton Bowl defeat to the Fighting Irish dropped it to No. 3 in the final AP writers' poll.
Texas finally integrated in 1970 with offensive lineman Julius Whittier but too much black talent had escaped the Lone Star State. Texas native Greg Pruitt ran all over and around Texas in 1971 as Oklahoma registered a 48-27 whipping of the Horns with a faster and more explosive version of the Wishbone.
Finally, Royal began seeking black players. Running back Roosevelt Leaks became Texas' first black star in 1972, and Royal hit the recruiting jackpot when he persuaded future Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell to become a Longhorn in 1974. But Texas' days as a national title contender under Royal were done.
Years later Royal noted, "If you're saying we should have [integrated] a little sooner I would agree with you. All of us [in the SWC] should have, not just Texas."
He retired as head football coach after a 5-5-1 season in 1976, his worst in Austin, and left his post as Texas athletic director in 1980.
Unlike Frank Broyles, his good friend and longtime coaching rival at Arkansas who became a celebrated college football analyst with Keith Jackson on ABC, Royal stayed out of the public eye for most of his remaining years.
He occasionally showed up, as when Texas honored him by renaming its football facility Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium in 1996.
But his place in Texas football history goes far beyond the name on the stadium.
"Darrell was one of the greatest football coaches our sport has ever known," said Broyles in a statement Wednesday shortly after his friend's death. "His influence on college football, the University of Texas and the impact he had on the lives of thousands of young men who played for him is impossible to fully measure."
Royal might simply say, "I tried not to make the same mistakes today that I made yesterday."