This extraordinary collection of never-before-published photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, football ephemera, and recollections reveals the private man behind the UT football legend who will always be “The Coach,” Darrell K Royal.
Decades after his last game in 1976, Darrell K Royal remains “The Coach,” the winningest football coach in University of Texas history. The driving force behind eleven Southwest Conference and three national championships, winner of Coach of the Year and Coach of the Decade awards, and honored namesake of the Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium, Royal is still revered as “a coach who would rather lose a game than engage in unsportsmanlike tactics; who would neither make excuses for losing nor brag about winning; and who by his own example contributes to the building of stalwart character in men,” in the words of the City of Austin’s “Darrell Royal Day” proclamation.
DKR offers an intimate, insider’s view of the private life of the man behind the legend through an extraordinary collection of never-before-published photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, football ephemera, recollections, and “Royalisms” lovingly preserved by Royal’s wife of more than sixty-five years, Edith. This irreplaceable family archive offers revealing snapshots of Royal’s entire life, from his impoverished youth in Oklahoma, through his courtship of Edith and his glory days as a player at Oklahoma and a coach at Texas, to his retirement career as a goodwill ambassador for the university. Accompanying the images are moving recollections from fellow coaches and former players, family members, and friends who testify to Royal’s honesty and integrity and the transformative effect that his character has had on the legions of people whose lives he has touched.
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- Chapter 1: The Ultimate Compliment
- Chapter 2: Favorite Son
- Chapter 3: A Little Country-Town Courtship
- Chapter 4: Off with One Helluva Roar
- Chapter 5: He Kicks with His Head
- Chapter 6: Born to Coach
- Chapter 7: Gone to Texas
- Chapter 8: Coach Royal's Wife
- Chapter 9: The Flip-Flop
- Chapter 10: "We're Ready"
- Chapter 11: Wake-Up Call
- Chapter 12: The Wishbone
- Chapter 13: Philosophy
- Chapter 14: Beginning of the End
- Chapter 15: OU Revisited
- Chapter 16: Lessons from the Coach
- Chapter 17: Friends and Other Diversions
- Chapter 18: Settin' His Bucket Down
- Chapter 19: The Pope of Austin
- Chapter 20: The Fourth Quarter
- Appendix A: Royal as a Sooner, Longhorn, and Honoree
- Appendix B: Royalisms
- Appendix C: Letters to the Coach
- Selected Sources
For as long as she can remember, Edith Royal has been a saver of "stuff" and a documenter of events, unaware that she was actually an archivist. As a teenager, when she so carefully bound in blue satin ribbon the latest letters from her boyfriend, she could not have known that one day all those saved things—newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, family photos, funny letters from friends—would serve a larger purpose. She couldn't have imagined that sixty years later, researchers and writers would pick through those photos and scrapbooks, searching for clues to what had made her husband successful, unique, revered. She never dreamed that anyone outside of their family would care, or would thank her for being a "pack rat." "I just thought I was saving history for my family, for the children and grandchildren Darrell and I might have one day," she says.
I first knew of Darrell Royal from my father, a successful high school football coach in southeast Texas. I knew that Coach Royal was larger than life: handsome and witty, his "Royalisms" were repeated so often that today they are part of our state's as well as the sport's lexicon. He was innovative and forthright, the picture of integrity, and he welcomed high school coaches to his practices, his film room, and his office. And he always—always—remembered their names.
Royal was the head coach at The University when I arrived in Austin in 1972. I was an intern in the Sports Information Department, so whenever I was trying to avoid either actual work or the wrath of my boss, Jones Ramsey, I'd cut over to the coaches' offices, where I'd visit with Bill Ellington, Leon Manley, or Coach Royal. Anytime I stuck my head in his door, Royal, the head coach and athletic director of The University of Texas, responded in the same way: "Well, hello, Jenna. Come in and have a seat. You have time for a visit?" Never did he make a visitor feel as if he were too busy.
I met Edith a year or so later. She sat in a side room of the KTBC television studio, doing embroidery while she waited for Darrell and Bill Worrell, a Houston sportscaster, to finish taping a weekly segment of The Darrell Royal Show. I was nervous about meeting her, and I expected an aloof celebrity. What I found instead was a woman who laughed easily and was willing to befriend a silly twenty-year-old co-ed. I now know that she is a keeper of people as well as things. A few years ago, Edith brought me treasure: files of letters and drawings and poems that young fans had sent Coach Royal during his years at Texas: "I don't know what we can do with these, but I wanted you to have them." I wasn't her first choice; Bud Shrake had held onto them for years, but he was busy with other projects and never found time to publish the letters. He finally returned the file to Edith, who gave it to me. "Let's do a book," I suggested. When Coach Royal's players planned to honor him with a party to celebrate his eight-fifth birthday, Edith and I asked Royal's friends and former players to write him letters recounting some special memory. The overwhelming response provided more letters for "The Book." With the help of Edith; my agent, Kathleen Niendorff; the book's creative director, Randy McEachern; and Bill Bishel, Allison Faust, and Dave Hamrick at the University of Texas Press, "The Book" of letters morphed into a more intimate glimpse into Darrell's life. Over the past two years, Edith and I have met over breakfast or at our favorite junk store every couple of weeks, and truth be told, we did a lot more laughing than working. The book progressed, and I became enthralled with her stories of life with Darrell, and I knew no book on the coach would be complete without including more of Edith. The book shifted shape again, into what you now hold in your hand, a scrapbook full of DKR's quotes, Edith's recollections, and family photos never before published—a private glimpse into the very public lives of one of Texas's best-loved and most influential couples. The world did not need another football book about Darrell Royal, and this is not intended to be a biography, but a scrapbook of his and Edith's lives as they were intertwined with football, friends, and family.
Future historians will be indebted to Edith for saving the things she saved, because she and her husband became almost mythic in reputation. Two impoverished teenagers, products of the Dust Bowl and the Depression, they started out with little more than big dreams and a deep devotion to each other and then grew into a couple of great influence and power. Their celebrity and prestige originally sprouted from his position as head football coach at The University of Texas, where he enjoyed unmatched success. But through the years, their reputation flourished as a result of their generous gifts of money, time, heart, and spirit, as well as their willingness to help others find a job, find sobriety, or find their way.
This book is really a love story, recording the devotion between the Royals and their friends, the Royals and the Longhorn Nation, the Royals and their family, and of course, the love between two kids who laughed and loved and bickered and bore unbearable pain as they forged an almost seventy-year union. This book is Edith's love offering to Darrell.
Finally, this scrapbook is my love letter to Darrell and Edith. I've been blessed to call them my friends.
The Ultimate Compliment
"Any coach who loves the profession as much as I did has to consider it the ultimate compliment."
—Darrell K Royal to Pat Baldwin, Private Clubs Magazine, July–August 2004
A man famous for his clever words, Darrell Royal was rarely at a loss for them. But now he was flabbergasted. In all his seventy-two years, he had seldom been as stunned as he was at that moment. The two men sitting across from him in his living room waited for his response to their request. As he struggled to comprehend what they were saying, Royal could only stammer, "My gosh, are you asking for my approval?" The men said that they were. "Well, yes, of course!"
It was 1996, and Darrell Royal wasn't much given to worry. He looked out over the open rolling hills of Barton Creek Country Club and heard the wind chimes sounding softly through his sliding-glass door. He knew every contour of every fairway and green on the golf course outside the window. Although he still worked for The University of Texas as special assistant to the president, it had been twenty years since he had left behind the pressure of being head coach, and life was good, peaceful, satisfying. He was curious, though, why his two bosses—UT chancellor William Cunningham and Robert Berdahl, the president of The University—had asked to meet with him. He wondered why they had not asked him to come to campus for this meeting. Instead, they were coming to him. Afterward, Royal joked that he thought he must have been in some kind of trouble. But when the three men were gathered in the Royals' living room, surrounded by framed photos, autographed footballs, and awards for a life well lived, they came out with it.
The University of Texas Board of Regents had voted to add "Darrell K Royal" to the name of Texas Memorial Stadium. Cunningham and Berdahl were there to ask Royal's permission to make the change.
"Naming the Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium represents nothing more than a small down payment on our debt of gratitude to you and Edith for all you have done for The University."
—William Cunningham, former UT chancellor, in a note to the Royals
The first time Royal saw it in print—"Kick off is 7:20 p.m., August 31, 1996, at Darrell K Royal—Memorial Stadium"—he was shocked, as he was when he saw it for the first time on the Jumbotron in the stadium. The magnitude of the gesture overwhelmed him: "I thought, 'This is really something. It may be referred to this way forever.'" Football is big business at The University of Texas. The UT Athletics Department is unrivaled; it is one of the most successful college athletics programs in the country, and easily the most profitable. There are orange-bloods who complain that UT's advertising, licensing, and marketing circus has become more important than the football game itself. The football field, the athletic complex, the locker room, the trophy room, the north end zone, the academic center, the club on the west side of the stadium, the hall on the east side, the practice facility, and the weight room all bear the names of loyal and generous big-dollar donors. And this, as much as any other accolade, speaks of how beloved and revered Darrell Royal still is. Mickey Herskowitz, a sports columnist for the Houston Chronicle, wrote in 1996: "Keep in mind, Royal didn't buy the naming rights. They gave it to him from deep in their hearts." It was a merited tribute for the man who arrived in December 1956 to take over a Texas football program that had been battered by the worst season in school history. Royal methodically and with integrity rebuilt the program into one that commanded respect, even awe, on the national stage. He took the Longhorns to conference championships and national championships and left us with his enduring "Royalisms." He is recognized as one of the most brilliant and innovative coaches in the history of the game. And with the addition of his name to the stadium, things had come full circle for Royal.
"The smartest coach I knew. Not even close."
—Dan Jenkins on Darrell Royal
Dr. John Genung, who played quarterback for Royal (1960–1962), recently wrote his coach this note: "The boys who played for you knew you did it the right way. That your way was correct—that it could be done with honor and hard work and fairness. When it was over you could look yourself in the mirror and know that it was right—you were the reason why, the cause of it all. Thanks, Coach."
"I want to be remembered as a winning coach, but I also want to be remembered as an honest and ethical coach."
—Darrell K Royal