Darrell Royal dies at age 88

AUSTIN, Texas -- Darrell K Royal, the former Texas football coach known as much for his folksy, simplistic approach to life as for his creative wishbone offenses and two outright national championships, has died. He was 88.

University of Texas spokesman Nick Voinis on Wednesday confirmed Royal's death. Royal had suffered from Alzheimer's disease and recently fell at an assisted living center where he was receiving care.

Royal took over as head coach at Texas at age 32 in 1956 after starring as a halfback for Oklahoma and then taking head coaching jobs at Mississippi State and Washington.

In 23 years as a head coach, he never had a losing season, with his teams boasting a 167-47-5 record in his 20 years at Texas, the best record in the nation over that period (1957-76).

Royal won 11 Southwest Conference titles, 10 Cotton Bowl championships and national championships in 1963 and 1969, going 11-0 each time. Texas also won a share of the national title in 1970 when it was awarded the UPI (coaches) national championship before losing to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. The UPI awarded its title before bowl games were played. Nebraska won the AP national title that year.

The national title season in 1969 included what was dubbed the "Game of the Century," a come-from-behind 15-14 victory by the top-ranked Longhorns over No. 2 Arkansas in the final game of the regular season.

Former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes was an assistant on Royal's staff for five years.

"He didn't claim to invent football but I don't know anybody who coached it any better," Dykes said of Royal. "There are a lot of good things and bad things that can happen in your life. One of the best things that happened in my life was that I was able to work beside Coach Royal for five years."

Royal was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983.

Always a proponent of a strong running game, Royal is often quoted as saying: "Three things can happen when you pass and two of 'em are bad."

Asked later in his coaching career if he might switch to a passing attack, Royal said, you've got to "dance with the one who brung ya."

In 1968, Royal installed the wishbone, with the fullback lined up 2 yards behind the quarterback and a step up in front of the other two backs. With that formation, Royal's teams won 30 straight games and a record six straight SWC championships.

Royal's teams won more SWC games (109) and more overall games (167) in 20 years at Texas than those of any coach in league history.

He also served as Texas athletic director from 1962-79 before becoming a special assistant for athletic programs to the UT president. In that capacity, he was influential in the hiring of Mack Brown as football coach in 1997.

"Today is a very sad day," Brown said in a statement. "I lost a wonderful friend, a mentor, a confidant and my hero. College football lost maybe its best ever and the world lost a great man. I can hardly put in words how much Coach Royal means to me and all that he has done for me and my family. I wouldn't even be at Texas without Coach. His counsel and friendship meant a lot to me before I came to Texas, but it's been my guiding light for my 15 years here."

Texas honored Royal in 1996 by renaming Texas' football stadium Darrell K Royal-Memorial Stadium.

In announcing the name change, UT System chancellor William Cunningham said, "No individual has contributed more to athletics at UT-Austin than Darrell Royal. He is a living legend."

Royal was close friends with former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who attended Texas football games once his presidency ended.

"I'm not a football fan," Johnson said. "But I am a fan of people, and I am a Darrell Royal fan because he is the rarest of human beings."

Royal, who acknowledged being unconcerned about racial discrimination for much of his life and had all-white teams up until 1969, credited Johnson with turning around his viewpoint.

Royal had a folksy, straightforward approach to football and life that credited hard work as well as luck for his success.

He was among the first football coaches in the nation to hire an academic counselor to ensure athletes went on to graduate. He also set aside a fund for a special "T" ring, which he personally awarded to his players upon their graduation.

He was a stickler for following the rules, even when he disagreed with them.

In 1976, Royal accused then-Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer of sending a spy to Texas practices, a violation of NCAA rules if the scout was reimbursed for his work.

Royal challenged Switzer to take a lie detector test over the matter and said he would resign as coach at Texas if Switzer passed it. Switzer refused, and the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry took on added intensity.

"I was always a great fan of his and admired him," Switzer said Wednesday.

Switzer called Royal "a wonderful ambassador for the game of football" and said he would remember him for his "great sense of humor."

"He was great with the one-liners. Really a stand-up comedian with the one-liners he could give you. I'm saddened by his death."

Switzer said he and Royal were "more competitors than friends."

"We had great competition on the football field and in recruiting. Sometimes that sparked controversy, but that was our job, and I never let it bother me.

"I was always a great fan and admired him. He was one of us. He was an Okie before he went to Texas. We claim him as our own."

Royal was the youngest of six children born to Katy and B.R. "Burley" Royal and grew up in tiny Hollis, Okla., where he chopped cotton as a young boy to help his family through the Depression.

His mother died before he was 6 months old, and he lost two sisters to a fever epidemic before he reached the age of 11.

Said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops: "Coach Royal will always have a special place in the hearts of Sooners' fans as an unbelievably talented player. From a coaching perspective, I have great admiration for his many accomplishments, his great players and his championship teams, and especially appreciate the fact that he never suffered a losing season in 23 seasons as a head coach."

Information from SoonerNation's Jake Trotter, HornsNation's Carter Strickland and The Associated Press was used in this report.