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November 7, 2012

MY TAKE: On Darrell Royal, a humble giant

Darrell Royal didn't take himself seriously. You knew that when you walked into his home and you had to look hard to find any reminders that he was the winningest coach in Texas history with three national titles.

Royal, a native of Hollis, Oklahoma, who played for the Sooners under Bud Wilkinson, was so humble, he even let a young offensive coordinator named Barry Switzer from Oklahoma come to Austin and learn the Wishbone from Royal's offensive coordinator, Emory Bellard, the Wishbone's architect.

Soon, OU faithful were saying, "Texas may have invented the Wishbone, but Oklahoma perfected it," as Switzer went on to win three national titles using the offense. Royal never let the public see how much that bothered him.

And one of the things I always found interesting was Royal becoming best friends with one of his biggest coaching rivals - Frank Broyles of Arkansas. Even while they were battling each other on the field for Southwest Conference titles and even national titles, they would vacation together.

I asked Royal about this once, and he said, "Frank and I understood each other in a way few others could."

He didn't elaborate. But when you think of all that comes with being a head coach and athletic director at the highest level, like those two were in the 1960s, it all makes sense.

Broyles' wife, Barbara, would die after battling Alzheimer's Disease, which would ultimately claim Royal as well.

Broyles told The Dallas Morning News in March, "We had a friendship that amazed people. They couldn't understand how we could be so competitive and remain so close.

"Darrell Royal was a very special person. He was one of the greatest coaches in the country. But to know him, he was just Darrell Royal.

"He never thought he was anything great."

The two were so close that they hung up their coaching careers together in 1976. Both were getting concerned that college football was headed in a direction of pervasive cheating and wanted no part of it. So DKR retired from coaching at the age of 52.

Royal's friendship with Broyles wasn't the only one that puzzled people.

Royal loved music and loved hanging around musicians, including Willie Nelson. Most everyone knew Willie enjoyed having a good time and might use some substances to help him have a good time.

The brass at UT didn't think it was great for Royal to be photographed with Willie. But Royal didn't care. He just loved the music. And DKR loved having musicians like Willie, Johnny Rodriguez and Larry Gatlin come over to his house and strum the guitar.

Royal was one of a kind.

I got the chance to play golf with Royal once and was amazed not only that he shot his age when he was 77, but at how quickly he played. He would hit his ball as soon as he walked up to it. He could finish a round in half the time of other golfers.

And if he was playing in a foursome with players who took a long time over the ball, he'd walk into the woods and look for balls. When playing at Barton Creek, Royal knew where all the players lost their golf balls in the woods and would go pick them up. It wasn't out of the ordinary for Royal to finish a round with 20 more balls than when he started.

Every time I had a chance to interview Royal, he only gave you the answer to your question. He didn't go on and on about all the things he'd accomplished. He never spoke about himself unless he was asked.

Some former coaches, if you ask them one question, they'll go on for days with story after story. Most coaches who've had success want to relive that success at any opportunity.

Not Darrell Royal, whose middle name was simply the letter K in honor of his mother, Katy, who died when Royal was an infant.

DKR was so humble, so self-deprecating that he thought he might be boring you if an answer went on too long. When, really he always left you wanting more.

You wanted him to go on and on about the Wishbone, the 30-game winning streak, about the 1969 game with Arkansas and about the 53 Veer pass he called on fourth down, perfectly executed by James Street and Randy Peschel.

You wanted him to go on about his sayings, about his philosophies, about being a Sooner who led rival Texas to its greatest heights. About his friendships with Lyndon Baines Johnson and Willie Nelson and how he could walk away from coaching Texas at the age of 52 in 1976, knowing Earl Campbell was coming back in 1977.

About not getting to name his successor as UT's coach while also serving as Texas' athletic director (his pick would have been his defensive coordinator Mike Campbell), because Texas' regents, led by Frank Erwin and former Texas Gov. Allen Shivers wouldn't let him.

Today, I'm left with the same feeling, wanting more time with this humble giant. It was never enough.

DKR, you will be missed, remembered and appreciated.


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