Former Texas players, rivals remember Darrell Royal

AUSTIN -- Long before the doors opened for Tuesday's memorial service honoring former Texas football coach Darrell Royal, a pair of Texas A&M notables had worked their way to the front of the line.

When crowds began spilling into the Frank Erwin Center, two of the first to enter were John David Crow, A&M's 1957 Heisman Trophy winner and former athletic director and former Aggies football coach R.C. Slocum.

"We kind of wanted it that way," Crow said of the early arriving rivals. "Coach Royal was a good man and a good coach. But he was a great, great friend. I think that's the most important thing that a person can be is a great friend."

Slocum called himself a lifelong Royal admirer because the former coach "was very authentic" and always made others feel special, regardless of their station in life.

"I admired him greatly," Slocum said. "He was a man's man. He was a coach's coach and just a real gentleman."

Royal's affable demeanor and national championship credentials (1963, 1969, 1970) earned him legions of followers and widespread respect from peers during a 20-year tenure at Texas (1957-76) marked by a record of 167-47-5 and the creation of the wishbone offense. Royal, 88, died Nov. 7 after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Among the estimated crowd of 1,500 who took time out to honor Royal included legendary former Texas players (Tommy Nobis, Earl Campbell, Vince Young), past coaching rivals (Frank Broyles, Barry Switzer, Grant Teaff) and college football administrators.

Texas coach Mack Brown and professional golfer Ben Crenshaw, a two-time Colonial and Masters champion, eulogized Royal. Country music legend Willie Nelson, a longtime Royal friend, sang Healing Hands of Time.

William Powers, the university president, credited Royal -- who insisted on burnt-orange jerseys and put the Longhorn silhouette on the team's white helmets during his coaching tenure -- as "the real creator of the Longhorn brand that defines our institution around the world today. And he defined it with character and with integrity."

Royal also was known for his clever one-liners, dubbed "Royalisms." Several of the most famous ones -- including "we're gonna dance with who brung us" and "he runs faster than small-town gossip" -- were displayed on a wraparound LED board at the service.

Brown, whose 149-41 record ranks second to Royal on the school's all-time wins list, credited Royal with teaching him lots of lessons during his 15 seasons in Austin.

"The most amazing thing to me about Coach, which I loved, is he took very complicated things and made them seem simple," said Brown, who recalled Royal's checklist of requirements for being the Texas football coach when Brown interviewed for the post: stay connected with alums, former players, high school coaches and the grass-roots fans.

"And he said, 'Oh, there's one other thing. You've got to win all them damn games, too,'" Brown said.

Royal won enough of those games to lead Texas to 11 Southwest Conference championships, 10 Cotton Bowl victories and undisputed national titles in 1963 and 1969. His 1970 team won UPI's version of the national title. But Royal's legacy, said Broyles, his rival at Arkansas, is defined by how he won the games.

"He ran an honest, clean program throughout his career," said Broyles, who once played 90 holes of golf with Royal during a single day. "I don't know of any coach in our time that had more respect from all the coaches across the country because of the way he handled everything."

The list includes Switzer, the former Oklahoma and Dallas Cowboys' coach. Royal accused Switzer of spying on Longhorns' practices during the 1976 season. Switzer said he "always admired Darrell" but "could never have a relationship with him" because of Royal's anger about the spying incident in Royal's final season.

But Switzer was quick to credit Royal, a standout college player at Oklahoma, with an assist to the Sooners' program when embattled OU coach Chuck Fairbanks opted to install the wishbone in 1971. Royal allowed Switzer, then an OU assistant, to consult with Texas offensive coordinator Emory Bellard about the triple-option offense.

"He spent some time with us, trying to help Chuck save his job. And I'll tell you, coaches wouldn't do that today," Switzer said. "That says what kind of guy he was."

Asked how he became involved in those discussions, Switzer said: "I was an assistant at the time, so I hadn't pissed Darrell off yet. Darrell didn't know who I was."

But Switzer said he always knew about Royal, which is why he traveled to Austin to show his respects Tuesday.

"I admired him and I always considered him one of ours. A great Oklahoman," Switzer said. "Everybody up there loved him."

The feeling was mutual on the other side of the Red River as well. Even among rivals. Teaff, the former Baylor coach, recalled Royal asking to address his team -- and offering encouragement -- after the Bears upset Texas 34-24 in a game that decided the 1974 SWC title.

"That was the unselfish act of a great man who was also a great coach," Teaff said. "He's always been one of my favorite men in the coaching profession. And a real important part of that is what kind of man he was."

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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