Remembering Coach Darrell K Royal

Darrell K Royal on players' shouldersOn Wednesday there was the expected and much deserved blitz of tributes to Darrell K Royal, former football coach at the University of Texas, who passed away at age 88 after a six-year battle with Alzheimer’s. Ultimately, a fall in the extended care facility in which he most recently lived led to his passing from complications of cardiovascular disease early in the morning of November 7, 2012.

Coach Royal epitomized the class and quality of the University of Texas, turned Longhorn football into the mega program it is today and had a forever-lasting impact on the city of Austin and Central Texas. To those of my age-group, the coveted 40-55-year old demographic that still reads books and magazines on paper, not always on computer screens, Royal was as important to the lore of the Lone Star State as Lyndon B. Johnson and Davy Crockett.

I, in fact, remember like it was yesterday sitting in a darkened classroom at David Crockett High School in Austin, watching a film (yes, a film) chronicling the 1975 Longhorn football season in which quarterback Marty Akins (the second-ever All-American quarterback at Texas) ran the wishbone, handing the ball to fullback Earl Campbell. There was an extended scene with that trio – Royal, LBJ and Akins – standing around laughing and back-slapping, most likely after a win. It was forever burned in my mind.I had met and spoken with Coach Royal many times through the years, and had several chances to play golf with him, including, most memorably, in 1993, during the media day run up to the (quickly defunct) Celebrity Golf Association’s inaugural tournament that was held at Barton Creek Resort in Austin. Coach Royal and I played with then Longhorn basketball coach Tom Penders and major league baseball legend Davy Johnson, a pretty darn good golfer.
Darrell Royal Playing Golf
Coach Royal took us all to the cleaners. He always loved to play golf and could still move the ball pretty well back then.I was on assignment and heading to another golf course – this time the new Max Mandel Municipal Golf Course in Laredo – yesterday when I received news of his passing. We all knew Coach Royal was in dire straits and that his return to the heavens was neigh, but his death was still quite a shock. It will hit us all even more on Saturday, when we walk into the stadium on the Forty Acres than bears his name and where he strode the sidelines for so long with such authority.We at Horns Illustrated send our sympathies to his wife, Edith, and to all of the University of Texas family to which Coach Royal was such a meaningful part of their lives. He was Texas, and will forever be Texas football.
If you would like to make a donation in Coach Royal's honor, the Royal family ask that you make the donation to the Darrell K Royal Research Fund for Alzheimer’s or to the Texas Exes' Forty Acres Scholarship Fund.There will be a memorial service open to the public at noon on Tuesday November 13th, at the Erwin Center.

Statement from Mack Brown on the passing of Darrell Royal:

"Today is a very sad day. I lost a wonderful friend, a mentor, a confidant and my hero. College football lost maybe its best ever and the world lost a great man. I can hardly put in words how much Coach Royal means to me and all that he has done for me and my family. I wouldn't even be at Texas without Coach. His council and friendship me and a lot to me before I came to Texas, but it's been my guiding light for my 15 years here." Coach gave so much more to the State of Texas and college football than he took away. He forgot more football than most of us will ever know, including me. His impact on the game, the coaches and players, the community and the millions of lives he touched, is insurmountable. He will be missed in so many ways."I lost my Dad when I was 54, and Coach filled a real void in my life and treated me like family. Sally and I gained a lot coming to Texas and being a part of this tremendous program but no more than our relationship with Coach and Edith. They were our closest of friends. Our heart pours out to Edith and the family and our thoughts and prayers are with her and the family. We will always be there to lend any and all support that we can as she and Coach always did for us."

DeLoss Dodds statements on the passing of Coach Royal:
It’ a tough day. Started our morning with the call from [Darrel Royal’s wife] Edith Royal at 5:45 a.m. to let us know that Coach Royal had passed away during the night. It’s a sad day for all of us. He built the foundation that we’re working off of today. He did it in every way. He did it with the football program. He did it as [Athletics Director]. He absolutely got us started in the right direction at the University of Texas. He took a program that was struggling, and took it to new heights. And he gave us the confidence. Helped build the university. Helped brand the university. So this is a tough time for all of us.He was very close to his players. Was probably closer after they finished playing than they were while they were playing. He had a lot of great relationships with the alumni. Built some longtime relationships. It truthfully helped us build the stadium the way you see it today. He helped us financially. Anyway you cut it - anything we do around here, anything you look at around here, Coach Royal has his fingerprints on it.On a personal side, when I came to Texas in ’81, he was one of the first people to meet me. He was a friend. He was a mentor. He helped me navigate the University of Texas, as only he could do. That served the university in a good way. So he’s a special friend to a lot of us, to most of us, to all of us. We loved him. We love his family. Edith is the best of the best. We care very much about them, and we are going to do some things to honor him on Tuesday. We’ll have a memorial around noon at the [Frank] Erwin Center. We’re going to light the tower tonight, all orange, in his memory. The football team is going to wear decals on the side of their helmet that will have a “DKR” on it. And it’s appropriate, in my mind, that for Veteran’s Day we will also celebrate his life Saturday at the football game. And I think [head coach] Mack Brown has said this, but our first play from scrimmage on Saturday will be out of the wishbone."
On some things Royal is credited for over the years besides his wins and losses: He did hire the first academic coach, it is what he called them, Lan Hewitt. I think today, we must have, I’m going to guess, 15 [academic counselors]. He did start the T-Ring and the biggest day in my life was when Coach Royal presented this to me. It represents student athletes who graduated and who lettered at Texas in football. Whatever you see around here he was a part of. He was a great friend to Coach Brown, he has been a great friend to me, a great friend to the staff and - what can you say, he is Texas.
On how Royal was instrumental in hiring Coach Mack Brown: The good story on Mack was that we had a committee of a number of people, I think it was 14 or 15, and Coach Royal was on the committee. We had the meeting in Atlanta and we had Mack there. I met with Mack and Sally before they met with the committee. They met with the committee and then I met with them afterwards, and I thought I had a pretty good commitment that he would come to Texas. He said he needed to go back first to North Carolina to talk to his team, which was absolutely the appropriate thing to do. As we tried to get him to fly back to Austin with us, he would not do that. When we got on the bus with the committee to come back to Austin, Mack and Sally were standing on the sidewalk and I told Coach Royal to go back out there and get a commitment. We need a commitment. He went back out and I don’t know the conversation, I know they hugged and Coach Royal got back on the bus. So I think Coach Royal made a huge difference of Mack and Sally being in Austin.
On what he learned about Coach Royal when working near each other:Great sense of humor. Great sense of humor. I played golf with him and he had some great lines, especially about my golf game. I hit one way out of bounds and I think his comment was, “Lassie couldn’t find that even if it had bacon wrapped around it.” We rode the bus to the National Football Hall of Fame in New York - that was absolutely one story after another. I hope somebody has captured all those things for a book someday.On one piece of advice from Coach Royal that stuck out to him: I think he was the first one that told me, “Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.” He just never changed, was always there, could call him anytime. Miss Edith, what a wonderful first lady, what a wonderful wife she was to him, and what a wonderful lady she was for the University of Texas and the football program and absolutely still is.

James Schleicher

James Schleicher is the publisher of Horns Illustrated magazine. He's also a fifth generation Texan and lifelong Austinite. Follow @HornsIllus twitter to keep up with all things Horns Illustrated.

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