After leaving the White House, Lyndon Johnson became a fixture at the University of Texas football games. One autumn afternoon, the former President was approached by a reporter who asked how he became such a football fan.
“I’m not a football fan,” Johnson replied, “but I’m a fan of people and I’m a Darrell Royal fan because he is the rarest of human beings.”
Royal coached the Texas Longhorns for two decades. In that time, he never had a losing season and his teams posted the best record in the nation, winning 167 games, losing 47 and tying five. Under Royal, Texas won three national championships, 11 Southwest Conference championships and appeared in 16 bowl games.
“The union between the Texas football program and Darrell Royal was the best match-up since boots and saddles,” one columnist wrote.
Royal — innovator, a teacher and folk hero — is the Maxwell Club’s choice for the 17th annual Reds Bagnell Award for his contributions to the game of football.
A native of Hollis, Oklahoma, Royal was an All-America quarterback at the University of Oklahoma. After graduation, he pursued a career in coaching, starting at Mississippi State, and then moving to Washington. He took over the Texas program in 1957 and in one season, he turned around the Longhorns, transforming a team that was 1-9 the previous year into a 6-3-1 bowl team.
He also saw to it that his players were winners off the field. He was the first coach to employ an academic counselor and during his 20 years at Texas, four of five men who earned football letters also earned their degrees.
“Integrity has been a key word for Darrell,” said Neils Thompson, Royal’s athletic council chairman and past president of the NCAA. “He has run his football team accordingly. He has lived by the rules and if he didn’t like those rules, he would fight to change them, but he would never intentionally break them.”
Royal introduced some new ideas to the game, notably the wishbone formation that he unveiled in 1968. The offensive backfield resembled a wishbone with the fullback lined up two yards behind the quarterback and one step up from the two halfbacks. Opponents had no idea how to defend the wishbone and the Longhorns used it to win 30 consecutive games.
Under Royal, the Texas teams were known for their discipline. They played hard, clean and smart with a minimum of rah-rah. Royal won more SWC games (109) and more conference championships than any other coach in league history. He was named coach of the decade for the ‘60s by ABC-TV.
In addition to winning football games, Royal was known for his folksy way with words. His quotes, better known as “Royal-isms”, are as legendary as his Cotton Bowl victories. Perhaps his best-known quote is “Dance with the one that brung ya.” In other words, if you got to the big game by running the football, then you keep running the football.
Other Royal-isms include:
“Football doesn’t build character, it eliminates the weak ones.”
“I learned this about coaching: You don’t have to explain victory and you can’t explain defeat.”
“If worms carried pistols, birds wouldn’t eat them.”
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
Royal retired as head coach at Texas following the 1976 season, but he stayed on as athletic director for three more years. He now serves the university as a consultant to the president. He was inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1983.
Former Head Football Coach, University of Texas