Former Texas coach Fred Akers, who was tasked with replacing the legendary Darrell Royal as the head coach of the Longhorns, died Monday, the school announced. He was 82.
After serving as an assistant to Royal from 1966 to 1975, Akers got his first head-coaching job at Wyoming. After going 8-4 and leading the Cowboys to the Fiesta Bowl, Akers returned to Austin, Texas, when Royal retired following the 1976 season.
Over the next 10 years, Akers went 86-31-2 in Austin. In 1977, his first season at the helm, he eschewed Royal's famed Wishbone attack for the I formation to feature star running back Earl Campbell. The pairing proved to be a success.
"Coach Akers told me on Thanksgiving Day, walking down the tunnel to [Texas A&M's] Kyle Field, 'If you give me 120 yards, I guarantee you you'll win the Heisman Trophy,'" Campbell told ESPN recently.
Campbell ran for a career-high 222 yards and three touchdowns that day in a 57-28 win over the Aggies. Campbell won the 1977 Heisman after leading the nation in rushing with 1,744 yards and 19 touchdowns, and Akers was named the national coach of the year.
"I think people are not as aware as they should be about what Fred accomplished at the University. Royal did a lot. Fred did too," Campbell said. "I did not even really know too much about the Heisman Trophy. I found out real quick what it was and he showed me exactly how to win one. My brothers Steve, Tim and I were very fortunate to have been able to play for him. He was a special man. I will miss him."
Texas coach Tom Herman and former Longhorns coach Mack Brown were among many in the college football community to share statements offering their condolences on Monday.
"It's a very sad day with the news of the passing of one of our Longhorn Legends in Coach Akers," Herman said. "In the opportunities I had to spend time with Coach, he was always so warm and gracious. The many, many great players he had at Texas have always shared such fond memories, too. He had tremendous success here and was a highly respected, all-time great in our coaching fraternity and beyond. On behalf of the Texas Football program, we send our sincere condolences to his family, friends, the numerous Longhorns he coached and worked with, as well as the many people whose lives he impacted."
Said Brown of his interactions over the years with Akers: "He was so kind to me. He was a great man, a wonderful football coach, and an excellent representative for the University of Texas. Our condolences go out to his wife, Diane, and all of his family and friends."
Akers brought Texas to the brink of a national title. In 1981, the Longhorns finished No. 2 in the AP poll after a 10-1-1 season, and they finished 11-1 in 1983, when Texas' 10-9 loss to No. 7 Georgia in the Cotton Bowl ended its hopes for a national title. The Longhorns finished No. 5.
Akers had three 10-win seasons and four top-10 finishes with the Longhorns but won just two Southwest Conference titles, a contrast to the seven won by Royal in the previous decade. Akers was fired after a 5-6 season in 1986, the Longhorns' first losing season in 30 years. His 86 wins rank third on the all-time UT victory list behind the totals of Royal and Mack Brown.
In all, Akers spent 19 years on the Texas staff. Following his dismissal, he became the head coach at Purdue but went just 12-31-1 in four seasons and returned to Austin to retire.