Darrell Royal, Hall of Fame Texas football coach, dies at 88


Darrell Royal, the Longhorn coach who won two national championships and was credited with devising the wishbone offense dies at 88. (Ted Powers/AP)
November 8, 2012

Darrell Royal, a Hall of Fame football coach at the University of Texas who won two national championships and was credited with developing the wishbone offense, died in Austin at age 88.

Mr. Royal had Alzheimer’s disease and recently fell at an assisted living center, where he was receiving care. University of Texas spokesman Nick Voinis confirmed his death, but the exact date of his death was not disclosed.

Mr. Royal did not have a losing season in his 23 years as a head coach at Texas, Mississippi State and Washington. During his 20 years at Texas (1957-1976), his teams boasted a 167-47-5 record — the best mark in the nation during that period.

“It was fun,” he told the Associated Press in 2007. “All the days I was coaching at Texas, I knew this would be my last coaching job. I knew it when I got here.”

Mr. Royal was just 32 when Texas hired him. The Longhorns hadn’t had a winning season since 1953, and he immediately turned the program around. Under Mr. Royal, Texas won 11 Southwest Conference titles, 10 Cotton Bowl championships and national championships in 1963 and 1969, going 11-0 each time. The Longhorns also shared a national title with Nebraska in 1970.

The son of a cotton farmer, Mr. Royal credited hard work and luck for his success. He had a knack for delivering pithy quotes about his team and opponents.

“Football doesn’t build character — it eliminates the weak ones,” was one of his famous lines.

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 to cap the regular season.

In Texas lore, it ranks as the greatest game ever played. President Richard Nixon, an avid football fan, flew in by helicopter to watch. Afterward, Nixon greeted Mr. Royal with a plaque proclaiming Texas the national champions.

In 1968, Mr. Royal and assistant Emory Ballard changed the football landscape with the development of the wishbone, which features a fullback lined up two yards behind the quarterback and a step in front of two other backs.

It almost didn’t work. After a tie and loss in the first two games that season, a frustrated Mr. Royal turned to backup quarterback James Street.

“Coach Royal grabbed me and he looked for a minute as if he were having second thoughts about putting me in,” Street said in 2007. “Then he looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Hell, you can’t do any worse. Get in there.’ ”

Texas won its next 30 games. Soon, rival Oklahoma and other schools started using the wishbone as well.

Mr. Royal faced criticism over the lack of black players on his first 13 Texas teams, although he had coached black players at Washington and in the Canadian football league.

Texas became the first SWC school to announce it would fully integrate the athletic program in 1963, but the football program didn’t have a black letterman until Julius Whittier in 1970.

Mr. Royal was known for his pithy homespun aphorisms. Known for favoring the running and disdaining the forward pass, he once said, “Three things can happen when you pass and two of ’em are bad.”

About a speedy back, he said, “He could run like a small-town gossip.”

Darrell K Royal — K was his middle name, not an abbreviation — was born July 6, 1924, in Hollis, Okla.

His mother died before he was 6 months old, and he lost two sisters to an epidemic. He chopped cotton as a boy to help his family through the Great Depression.

In 1938, Mr. Royal’s father took the family to California to look for work. Homesick for Oklahoma, Mr. Royal soon packed his bags and hitchhiked his way back.

He starred as a quarterback and defensive back at the University of Oklahoma under Hall of Fame coach Bud Wilkinson.

Survivors include his wife, Edith Royal; and a son. Two of his children died in traffic accidents.

Mr. Royal served as Texas athletic director from 1962 to 1979 and later became a special assistant to the university president. Texas honored him in 1996 by renaming the football stadium in his honor. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983.

In another of his many clever comments, Mr. Royal once described the hidden abilities of a slow player.

“He doesn’t have a lot of speed,” Mr. Royal said, “but maybe Elizabeth Taylor can’t sing.”

— From news services

and staff reports

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