AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Darrell K. Royal, the former Texas football coach known as much for his folksy, simplistic approach to life as for his creative wishbone offenses and two national championships, has died. He was 88.
University of Texas spokesman Nick Voinis on Wednesday confirmed Royal’s death. Royal had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and recently fell at an assisted living center where he was receiving care.
Royal took over as head coach at Texas at age 32 in 1956 after starring as a halfback for Oklahoma and then taking head coaching jobs at Mississippi State and Washington.
In 23 years as a head coach, he never had a losing season, with his teams boasting a 167-47-5 record in his 20 years at Texas, the best record in the nation over that period (1957-1976).
Royal won 11 Southwest Conference titles, 10 Cotton Bowl championships and national championships in 1963 and 1969, going 11-0 each time.
The national title season in 1969 included what was dubbed the “Game of the Century,” a come-from-behind, 15-14 victory by the top-ranked Longhorns over No. 2 Arkansas in the final game of the regular season.
Always a proponent of a strong running game, Royal is often quoted as saying: “Three things can happen when you pass and two of ’em are bad.”
Asked later in his coaching career if he might switch to a passing attack, Royal said, you’ve got to “Dance with the one who brung ya.”
In 1968, Royal installed the wishbone, with the fullback lined up two yards behind the quarterback and a step up in front of the other two backs. With that formation, Royal’s teams won 30 straight games and a record six straight SWC championships.
Royal’s teams won more SWC games (109) and more overall games (167) in 20 years at Texas than any coach in league history.
Royal also served as Texas athletic director from 1962-1979 before becoming a special assistant for athletic programs to the UT president. In that capacity, he was influential in the hiring of Mack Brown as football coach in 1997.
Texas honored Royal in 1996 by renaming Texas’ football stadium, Darrell K Royal-Memorial Stadium.
In announcing the name change, UT System Chancellor William Cunningham said, “No individual has contributed more to athletics at UT-Austin than Darrell Royal. He is a living legend.”
Royal was close friends with former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who attended Texas football games once his presidency ended.
“I’m not a football fan,” Johnson said. “But I am a fan of people, and I am a Darrell Royal fan because he is the rarest of human beings.”
Royal, who acknowledged being unconcerned about racial discrimination for much of his life and had all-white teams up until 1969, credited Johnson with turning around his viewpoint.
Royal had a folksy, straight-forward approach to football and life that credited hard work as well as luck for his success.
He was among the first football coaches in the nation to hire an academic counselor to ensure athletes went on to graduate. He also set aside a fund for a special “T” ring, which he personally awarded to his players upon their graduation.
He was a stickler for following the rules, even when he disagreed with them.
In 1976, Royal accused then-Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer of sending a spy to Texas practices, a violation of NCAA rules if the scout was reimbursed for his work.
Royal challenged Switzer to take a lie detector test over the matter and said he would resign as coach at Texas if Switzer passed it. Switzer refused and the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry took on added intensity
Royal was the youngest of six children born to Katy and B.R. “Burley” Royal and grew up in tiny Hollis, Okla., where he chopped cotton as a young boy to help his family through the Depression.
His mother died before he was even 6 months old, and he lost two sisters to a fever epidemic before he reached the age of 11.
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