In light of Darrell K. Royal's passing Wednesday, there is no better time to celebrate this true Texas legend and the two characteristics for which he is most known: winning and his unmistakeable "Royalisms."
Royal passed away Wednesday at the age of 88 after spending years battling Alzheimer's disease. But before doing so, Royal established himself as one of the truly great men to ever participate in college football in any capacity. He was well-liked, well-respected and he was a winner in the truest sense of the word.
In his 20 years as the head football coach at the University of Texas, Royal never had a single losing season en route to the program's first three national championships. Retiring in 1976, Royal not only went out as the program's all-time winningest coach with a record of 184-60-5, but he established Texas as the national power that it still is to this very day.
So as we all gather at the stadium named in Royal's honor or around the television to watch the Longhorns line up in Royal's famous Wishbone formation, take a moment to appreciate everything this man gave to this program. Chances are that we will never bear witness to another man that will have the impact Royal had on our Longhorns.
So without further ado, here are both the five greatest wins from Royal's illustrious career and the five greatest quotes, or Royalisms, that he ever churned out. It is very difficult to narrow each of these down to just five, so please feel free to leave a comment with your favorite Royal win, quote, moment or whatever else you feel like sharing about the greatest coach this university has ever seen.
In his first season using the Wishbone offense, Royal was able to get his victory of the year against the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Little did he know the unbelievable chain of events that would follow this victory.
After Texas finished the 1967 season with a mediocre record of 6-4, Royal knew it was time to change things up with his Longhorn team. So he went and hired offensive coordinator Emory Bellard, whom he charged with creating a three-man backfield triple-option offense. The end result was dubbed the Wishbone by Royal after a Houston sportswriter said it looked like a "pulley bone."
The Longhorns began the 1968 season with a 20-20 tie against the University of Houston and lost 33-21 at Texas Tech. Then Oklahoma State came to Austin and the Wishbone greeted the Cowboys with a 33-3 beatdown.
Texas would not lose a game for the rest of the season and won 29 more games in a row after handling the Cowboys on October 5. During that span, the Longhorns would win two national championships and Royal would solidify his legacy as the greatest coach the program had ever seen.
"I've always felt that three things can happen to you when you throw the football, and two of them are bad." (1963)
While this may not be the most inspirational or moving quotes of Royal's time, it is certainly among the most famous. Royal's offenses almost exclusively featured running the ball which was furthered after he began to use the Wishbone, though he did yield when he knew his team needed the big play.
Personally, this is one of the first Royal quotes I ever heard and I have always liked it. It is straight to the point and does not leave a whole lot of room for debate, not to mention how well this approach worked for him.
Even after defeating No. 2 Arkansas in the Big Shootout and being deemed the national champion by President Nixon himself, the Fighting Irish refused to acknowledge the Longhorns' achievement until they had their shot at Royal's squad.
The Longhorns came into this contest almost a month after some fourth-quarter magic gave them the win at Arkansas looking for their first outright national championship since 1963. The Irish, despite not being in a bowl in 45 years, came in as the class of college football.
The game was close with the Irish leading Royal's Texas team by a score of 17-14 with just over two minutes to play. The 'Horns were facing 4th-and-2 at the Notre Dame 10-yard line when, for the second consecutive game, Royal made a gamble.
The coach who famously loved to run the ball then run it some more gave his quarterback a run-pass option, which he turned into an 8-yard completion to receiver Cotton Speyrer. Three plays later, the Longhorns hammered it in to win by a score of 21-17.
The win not only gave the 'Horns their second-ever national championship, but it redefined the way the rest of the country viewed this team on the college football landscape. In short, it established Texas as one of the elite programs in all of college football.
"There's an old saying: You dance with who brung ya." (1965)
Royal gave us this gem after Texas was mired in a losing streak during the 1965 season. He was referring to the lack of consistency that his team was showing on the field and used this quote frequently to emphasize the importance of being consistent in all walks of life.
In what would turn out to be the game that would decide the 1970 national championship, the Royal's Longhorns were able to put together a statement win over an Arkansas team that took them to the brink a season ago.
A year after the Big Shootout, the Razorbacks came down to Austin looking for some revenge over the team that had staged an epic comeback the season prior. What they got was a heavy dose of the Wishbone and a Longhorn win that was never in doubt to push their winning streak to 30 games.
Though the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were able to exact some revenge over the Longhorns at the Cotton Bowl, the Longhorns were still voted the national champion by the coaches this season for Royal's last national championship of his coaching career.
“You’ve got to be in position for luck to happen. Luck doesn’t go around looking for a stumblebum.”
Another one of my all-time favorite Royalisms simply because he nailed this one right on the head. There is no such thing as dumb luck in college football. There is, however, such thing as making your own luck through scheme, making a play or simply being where you need to be at the right time.
Before the Wishbone and before the Big Shootout, there was the 1964 Cotton Bowl Classic that pitted Royal's Longhorns against Navy and Heisman Trophy-winner Roger Staubach.
The undefeated Longhorns were coming off of a nail-biter against the Aggies from over a month ago for a matchup against Navy and Staubach, who was one of the best to ever do it. While the matchup certainly set the stage for an epic showdown, the Longhorns left little doubt in dismantling the Heisman Trophy winner's squad 28-6.
The win made Texas the only team in the country without a loss or a tie on its record, earning Royal and the program their first-ever national championship.
“Breaks balance out. The sun don’t shine on the same ol’ dog’s rear everyday.” (1961)
Royal stated this after getting off to a 4-0 start in the 1961 season, his fourth with the team. Royal was cautioning the fans and the rest of him about getting too excited about the start they were enjoying, which is one of the true signs of a winner. And it is just great verbiage.
No mystery here as Royal's greatest win as head coach of the Longhorns undoubtedly came at Arkansas in which he bucked his own convention to come back from a two-touchdown deficit.
Heading into the matchup the always-quotable Royal said, "That will be a shootout." And he was right. His Texas team came into the game riding an 18-game win streak while the Razorbacks were riding a 15-gamer of their own. The Longhorns' Wishbone offense was averaging a staggering 44.4 points per contest and the Arkansas defense was leading the country in scoring defense.
It was college football's centennial year and it got the marquee matchup that it could only dream about—No. 1 Texas at No. 2 Arkansas. The game was even moved from the middle of the season to December simply so its implications could match the competition on the field. Even President Nixon attended the epic matchup.
And on the biggest stage either team had ever played upon, it seemed that the Razorbacks were going to cruise to victory. The Longhorns turned the ball over six times and were down 14-0 until Texas quarterback James Street scrambled for a touchdown on the first play of the final quarter. Royal, wanting nothing to do with a tie, told his quarterback to go for a two-point conversion that made the score 14-8.
The Razorbacks then went on a 73-yard drive that seemed as though it would bury Royal's team before Danny Lester forced Arkansas' first turnover of the game with an interception in the end zone. Texas now had the ball and was driving for the winning score.
That was when Royal made the call of his career. Facing 4th-and-3 on their own 43-yard line, Royal called "Right 53 Veer Pass," a play that was not even in the game plan and was far cry from what the Longhorns typically did on offense. On the play, Street found tight end Randy Peschel for 44 yards down the left sideline that took Texas all the way to the Arkansas 13.
Two plays later, Jim Bertelsen ran in the game-winning touchdown that gave the Longhorns their first national championship since adopting the Wishbone offense. It was undoubtedly the greatest call and win of Royal's unbelievable 20-year career.
"To be successful as a team, you must bring all of the parts together and play as one heartbeat."
This one was tough but to me nothing more perfectly illustrated what Royal stood for as a winner and as a team-first coach than this quote. This quote is relevant, accurate and should never be lost on anyone in any walk of life.
In memory of Darrell K Royal (July 6, 1924 - November 7, 2012)