John E. Hoover: Darrell Royal left a legacy on OU's program as well
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Thursday, November 08, 2012
11/08/12 at 5:29 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blogOriginal Print Headline: Royal left a legacy on OU program, too
No one man had more of an impact on the ongoing football fortunes of both Oklahoma and Texas than Darrell Royal.
Royal died on Wednesday at the age of 88, a Rushmore icon in the annals of both schools.
Texas in 1996 named its stadium after the Oklahoma native and former Sooner. OU should someday feel compelled to affix Royal's name to something nearly as hallowed.
Royal elevated the Longhorns to college football's pinnacle once. But he also lifted the Sooners to unequaled greatness - twice.
As an OU quarterback, halfback, defensive back and punter from 1946-49, Royal was named All-America in '49. But much more than that, Royal was one of the best players on Bud Wilkinson's early teams that helped turn OU into a permanent powerhouse.
As head coach at Texas from 1957-76, Royal won three national championships and resurrected the Longhorns to a 167-47-5 record over 20 years.
And after he and Wishbone creator Emory Bellard installed the dynamic offense in Austin, Royal - out of sympathy, of all things - instructed Bellard to teach it, every philosophical bit, to Barry Switzer.
Switzer talks about having to "feed the monster" at OU. Royal fed that monster in two different eras.
Boomer Sooner: Excellence in versatility
Royal grew up in Hollis, in extreme southwestern Oklahoma, during the Dust Bowl era. Just like in Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath," he endured the torment of poverty that eventually forced his family to migrate to California. But Royal stayed just two months out west and, at age 14, hitchhiked back to Oklahoma to live with his grandmother.
As a child, he dreamed about OU football, playing his own contests in the front yard while a radio broadcast Sooner games on the porch. He said in Harold Keith's book, "47 Straight," that the "Boomer Sooner" fight song "lifted me right out of my socks."
After a brilliant high school career, Royal enlisted in U.S. Army Air Corps and served four years in World War II.
In 1946, Wilkinson was a first-year OU assistant under Jim Tatum. According to Keith's book, 31 of the Sooners' top 33 players in '46 were war veterans.
In 1947, Wilkinson became the Sooners' head coach, and the OU "monster" was born. A year later, with Royal at quarterback, OU beat Texas for the first time in nine years.
Royal still holds OU records for career interceptions (18) and longest punt return (96) and ranks among several top 10 lists, averaging 15.7 yards on punt returns and 38.5 on punts. In '46 and '47, he led the team in defensive interceptions, and in '48 and '49, he led the team in passing offense.
Think about that.
Also in '49, Royal guided the Sooners to their first perfect season in 31 years, leading Wilkinson's troops to two Sugar Bowls and a string of 31 consecutive victories. Billy Vessels, OU's Heisman winner in '52, called the '49 Sooners "the best college football team of all time."
Hook 'em Horns: Building a Texas legend
Royal said he always wanted to coach. That's why he hung around Wilkinson and his staff long after other players had left for the day.
He worked as an assistant at North Carolina State in 1950, at Tulsa in '51, and at Mississippi State in '52 before he became head coach of the Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos in '53.
He went back to Mississippi State as head coach in '54-55, and was head coach at Washington in '56 before Texas called.
From 1939-53, Texas won 77 percent of the time, but the three years before Royal, the Longhorns couldn't even put together a winning season. Texas was 1-9 in 1956, but Royal turned the team around immediately and never had a losing record. He won national championships in 1963, '69 and '70.
Wilkinson was 9-2 against the 'Horns - before Royal showed up in Austin. Starting in Royal's second season, Texas beat the Sooners eight years in a row from 1958-65, helping end the OU careers of both Wilkinson and Gomer Jones.
Texas fans would disagree, but for Royal, his first win in the Cotton Bowl was hardly cause for joy. After railing against the new 2-point conversion rule - which Wilkinson, as a member of the national rules committee, helped bring about - Royal beat his old mentor 15-14, getting a 2-pointer after Texas' first touchdown.
Former OU president George Cross recounted in his book, "Presidents Can't Punt," that Royal felt so bad after beating Wilkinson that he threw up outside the 'Horns' locker room.
"It just didn't seem right to beat Mr. Wilkinson," Royal told Cross that day.
Giving back: Switzer's Wishbone
Maybe that's why in 1971, after sending Wilkinson into retirement and beating Chuck Fairbanks' Sooners four years in a row, Royal finally showed Oklahoma some compassion.
After using Bellard's Wishbone to go 30-2-1 over three seasons and winning national championships in 1969 and '70, Royal called Bellard into his office with a startling request.
Bellard retold the conversation in Wann Smith's book, "Wishbone: Oklahoma football 1959-85":
"Chuck Fairbanks and his coaches are in bad shape up in Oklahoma," Royal said, according to Bellard's 2009 interview with Smith. "They're fixin' to get fired. I want to help him. Barry Switzer will be calling you to learn about the Wishbone."
Switzer, also in a 2009 interview with Smith for the book, was equally stunned at Royal's impossible goodwill.
"When you consider the nature of the situation," Switzer said, "here was Texas, a blood rival, helping us out. It was an incredible thing for them to do. Ford would never give Chevrolet ideas on how to beat them at production or marketing, but Darrell and Emory, to their credit, helped us. And from that point on, we killed them."
Just like it had under Wilkinson and Royal, the tide turned once more on the Red River Rivalry. In Switzer's two years as OU's offensive coordinator and 16 as head coach, the Sooners beat Texas 11 times.
"I gave them all our knowledge about the formation," Bellard told Smith. "And within a year or so, we couldn't catch 'em. They had too much speed and talent. In retrospect, I doubt Darrell would be nearly as benevolent if he had it to do over again."