AUSTIN, Texas — A son of Depression-era Oklahoma, Darrell Royal came to Texas to take over a sleeping giant of a football program. Over 20 years, his folksy approach to sports and life, his inventive wishbone offense and a victory in the “Game of the Century” — where a U.S. president declared his team national champion — made him an icon of college football.
Royal, who won two national championships and turned the Longhorns into a national power, died early Wednesday at age 88 of complications from cardiovascular disease, school spokesman Bill Little said. Royal also suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.
Royal didn’t have a single losing season in his 23 years as a head coach at Texas, Mississippi State and Washington. Known for their stout defenses and punishing running attacks, his Texas teams boasted a 167-47-5 record from 1957-1976, the best mark in the nation over that period.
“It was fun,” Royal 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.”
It almost didn’t happen. Royal wasn’t Texas’ first choice.
Texas was coming off a 1-9 season in 1956 — still the worst in program history — and wanted a high-profile coach to turn things around. The Longhorns were rebuffed by Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd and Michigan State’s Duffy Daugherty, but both coaches encouraged Texas to hire the 32-year-old Royal, who was lying in bed the night he got the call summoning him to Austin.
“Edith, this is it, this is the University of Texas,” Royal told his wife.
Royal led the Longhorns to a 6-3-1 record in his first season, but he was so sickened by Mississippi’s 39-7 thrashing of his team in the Sugar Bowl that he gave away the commemorative bowl watch he received.