|Royal marks 50th anniversary of first season at Texas|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 20 September 2007 01:25|
``Edith, this is it, this is the University of Texas,'' Royal excitedly told his wife.
Coming off a 1-9 campaign in 1956 - still the worst season in program history - the Longhorns took a chance on an up-and-coming young coach, a move that changed the course of the program for the next half-century.
It was 50 years ago this week that Royal took his first Texas team to Georgia and beat the Bulldogs 26-7. The Longhorns would beat four ranked teams and finish second in the Southwest Conference that season.
Royal was 32 when he took the job and left 20 years later as one of the icons of college football.
``It was fun,'' Royal, 83, said this week. ``All the days I was coaching at Texas, I knew this would be my last coaching job. I knew it when I got here.''
He was not Texas' first choice.
When Ed Price resigned after that miserable '56 season, Texas searched for a high-profile coach to turn things around and was rebuffed by Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd and Michigan State's Duffy Daugherty.
But Dodd and Daugherty separately told Texas about Royal, a former Oklahoma Sooners quarterback who had coached at Mississippi State and Washington.
``That was a good job,'' Royal said of his one season at Washington in 1956. ``I had a nice place I really liked on Lake Washington, and our yard went right down to the water. I enjoyed it. (But) it rained a little too much for me.''
When Texas called, Royal jumped. It was closer to home and family in Oklahoma, and he knew the potential of what could be accomplished there.
``I just always thought it would be a plum coaching job,'' he said.
He also figured that even if he won only two or three games that first season it would be an improvement.
``I knew I couldn't fall out of bed when I was sleeping on the floor,'' Royal said.
The bed was certainly messed up when Royal arrived. It wasn't long before he started straightening things out.
Bobby Lackey, who played quarterback from 1957-1959, said the team was shocked by Royal's command and charisma in their first meeting.
``He walked in the room and there was no question things were going to change,'' Lackey said. ``We didn't know who he was, but it didn't take us long to figure it out.''
Lackey compared Royal's first spring training to Paul ``Bear'' Bryant's ``Junction Boys'' episode in 1954 for its toughness and weeding out players not willing to work hard.
``Bear Bryant didn't have nothing on Coach Royal,'' Lackey said. ``Some of those guys didn't hang around very long after that.''
In the new book ``What it Means to be a Longhorn,'' a compilation of personal stories from former players, Walton Fondren, a quarterback-punter-kicker and 1957 team co-captain, said Royal brought sophisticated practice regimens and film study.
``It was like stepping out of one time zone into one that was advanced several years down the road,'' Fondren said.
Royal had to make improvements off the field as well.
The locker room needed new paint. Memorial Stadium was surrounded by barbed wire and a chain-link fence with tall grass growing around it. The football office was a large room where all the assistants and a single secretary had to talk over each other when on the telephone.
Royal insisted it was time to clean and class things up.
``I was disappointed, but I felt I could get changes made,'' Royal said.
On the field, the surprising win at Georgia catapulted the Longhorns to No. 13 in the rankings. A two-game losing streak to South Carolina and No. 1 Oklahoma knocked them right back out.
The turning point came the next two weeks with wins over No. 10 Arkansas (17-0) and No. 13 Rice (19-14). Lackey scored a touchdown against the Owls on the only play he ever ran against Royal's wishes.
The call was a handoff to run off tackle. Lackey improvised, bootlegged left and scampered in for the score.
``I thought it was a pretty big deal,'' Lackey said. Royal waited until Monday to call Lackey into his office.
``He told me, 'We don't have that in our playbook. I don't want you to run that play anymore.' He didn't yell, but I understood. I never ran another play like that,'' Lackey said.
The biggest victory came against Bryant's No. 4 Aggies, who had that year's Heisman Trophy winner, John David Crowe. Texas' 9-7 victory clinched the Longhorns' first winning season since 1953.
The cycle of losing was broken. Royal won national championships in '63 and '69 and a share of a third in 1970. The Longhorns had 19 consecutive winning seasons until Royal's last in 1976, when Texas finished 5-5-1.
His last game was a 29-12 victory over rival Arkansas. Afterward, he and Razorbacks coach Frank Broyles announced they were retiring.
Royal was 52 when he quit coaching, but his legacy was secure. In 1996, Texas renamed its stadium Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
``There will be only one great legacy at the University of Texas,'' said coach Mack Brown, who won the 2005 national championship and is close friends with Royal. ``When you look at all he accomplished, winning three national championships and the games that he won, you understand.''