I’ve enjoyed reading the recollections of Darrell K Royal, the iconic Texas football coach who died this week. We met only once, in Austin at a basketball game, of all places. Mack Brown did the introductions, and Royal was gracious enough to answer a few questions for a story.In reading the tributes, I didn’t recall or hadn’t realized a few things about Royal. He stopped coaching after the 1976 season at the amazingly young age of 52. If he had coached to the age of Bill Snyder, who is 73, Royal would have been Texas’ first Big 12 coach.I could be wrong about this, but Royal gets lost in the shuffle when college football coaching greats among his contemporaries are discussed. Bear Bryant and Woody Hayes immediately spring to mind. But not Royal, which is a mistake. Three national championships, the second punctuated by an epic 1969 victory over Arkansas, place Royal in a small circle of coaching achievement.He also revived Texas. The Longhorns had gone 1-9 the year before Royal arrived and 6-4-1 with a Sugar Bowl invitation in his first year, 1957. There were 11 Southwest Conference championships, 10 Cotton Bowls and no losing records in his 20 years in charge.The Royal-Barry Switzer feud is the stuff of Red River lore, complete with Royal’s accusations of cheating and spying. Yet Royal’s football excellence was planted firmly on both banks of the river.The Hollis, Okla., native played for Bud Wilkinson and still holds the Sooners’ record for career interceptions. Royal even allowed Switzer, as a young Oklahoma assistant, access to the Longhorns’ knowledge of the wishbone. Texas offensive coordinator Emory Bellard had developed the attack in the late 1960s and helped Texas win two of Royal’s three national titles with it. Switzer took it to OU and won his own titles.But as Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls led in his salute, when he heard Royal had died, “a piece of nearly every Texan, including myself, died along with him. After all, he was Texas football.”That meant different things to different people in Royal’s time, and not all of it was glowing. The 1972 book “Meat on the Hoof,” written by former Texas reserve player Gary Shaw, painted a raw and unflattering portrait of the program and accused Royal of pitting reserves against each other in intense drills in an attempt to discourage them enough that they’d quit. Better players needed the scholarships, Royal said.Others in Texas this week remembered how the program was slow to integrate under Royal, and that the 1969 team was college football’s last all-white championship squad. Royal’s third national champion, the 1970 team that shared the title with Nebraska, included one black letterman.Historians suggest the decision to remain segregated wasn’t Royal’s — that it came from the school’s administration. Whatever the case, Royal was slow to promote integration after barriers began falling elsewhere in the Southwest Conference. Baylor and SMU integrated in 1965. Houston wasn’t part of the conference but had integrated its team a year earlier.The era is filled with similar stories in college sports. Next week, the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame will honor among its 10 inductees former Knicks star Willis Reed, who played at Grambling in the early 1960s. Segregation among major universities in the South and Southwest created powerhouses among historically black and integrated colleges in the NAIA.Bryant at Alabama and Adolph Rupp at Kentucky also dealt with racial attitudes of the times. Could they have used the iconic status in their communities to become bold agents of social change? It’s an easy answer today. Hindsight says they absolutely should have tried. That it didn’t happen, that coaches for whom stadiums and arenas are named didn’t act sooner than they did, suggests their powers of influence were limited.What isn’t in short supply this week is the flow of praise for one of the game’s most acclaimed coaches.
Posted on Thu, Nov. 08, 2012 07:41 PMShare Email Print Order Reprints
Looking back on a Royal coaching career
The career of Texas’ Darrell Royal, who died this week, deserves a retrospective.
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.