Crossing Paths with Coach Darrell Royal
He was the Texas Longhorns coach from 1957 to 1976. His influence on college football, on the University of Texas and on players and students alike is impossible to measure. I would love to have known him better, or gotten up the courage to say something when our paths crossed, which happened several times.
Take 1978 for example. Cisco’s on East Sixth Street was, at that time, the gathering spot for power brokers, legislators, sports notables and local celebrities. On a Saturday morning in October, especially with the Longhorns out of town for a game, there were maybe six people there. And one of those was Coach Darrell Royal. I was sitting a table or two away, but didn’t have the nerve to speak to him. He would be doing the color commentary on television later that day, flying up to Lubbock after breakfast to cover the Texas Tech-Texas game; it would be one of the first times for him to do a broadcast since he left coaching two years earlier.
Then in 1990, I again crossed paths with Coach Royal. In my job at UT, I had the great assignment of writing and producing a video on the life of Professor J. Neils Thompson, a professor of engineering. The college would be honoring him with a dinner that featured the video. Neils was the president for several years of the NCAA, the governing authority of intercollegiate athletics. He served as NCAA president back in the heyday of Coach Royal and the Texas Longhorns, the wishbone offense, national championships and a 30-game winning streak. Together, these two men made great strides for college sports. At the dinner, the video was played. The coach attended and was asked to offer some comments from the podium. It was one of the proudest moments of my life when he said—in that Southwestern twang of his—“Well, that’s one of the best videos of its kind I’ve ever seen.” Wow!
In the late ‘90s, I took our youngest son, Adam, to a Longhorns basketball game. I nudged Adam and said, “Let’s move down there.” Great seats. But about five minutes before tip-off, I glanced around to see Coach Mack Brown and Coach Darrell Royal coming down the aisle toward our row. “Please, Lord, don’t let us be sitting in their seats.” They breezed past us and sat across the aisle a few rows closer to the court. Whew! Kids came up to Coach Royal the whole game, asking him to sign their shirt or their cap. He never refused a single one.
Six or seven years ago, a friend of mine was in a band that played country and western music. I went to the airport-area hotel where the band was playing at a gathering for the Texas High School Coaches Association, and took a seat. Who should be at the next table but Coach Darrell Royal. People asked for autographs or stopped to chat with him, and it looked like he was enjoying every minute.
Finally, in 2007 I was honored by the university with a service award. Seated on the second row, I soon realized I was sitting directly behind Coach Royal, who also was being honored that day. I was called to the front by the university president, who briefly described my accomplishments. On the front row, Coach Royal was looking at me, listening and smiling, as if he knew all along that I would one day make him proud. I’m so glad our paths crossed. I will miss him.