Through the T-Ring, Royal's legacy continues
Feb. 13, 2013
Lauren Giudice, Texas Media Relations
David McWilliams has been a Texas Longhorn since 1960, when he was a freshman football player on the Forty Acres. Now the executive director of the T-Association for UT letterwinners, McWilliams has an office in the north end of the football stadium.
His office walls tell the stories of this lifelong Longhorn. Pictures of family and friends hang in abundance along with plaques and other mementoes of UT successes.
McWilliams’ hands tell their own stories as well. He has a ring on each of his hands. On one finger there is a bulky 1963 football national championship ring. On another, a simple ring with a raised white ‘T’ upon a light orange stone background.
On the inside of the ring, it reads “To: David McWilliams, From: Darrell Royal.”
This is McWilliams’ T-Ring.
Though it may not have the same fanfare as the national championship ring, it is something that McWilliams cherishes to this day, more than 45 years after Royal gave it to him. A T-Ring is awarded to UT varsity letterwinners who graduate.
“This one I had to earn,” McWilliams said pointing to his T-Ring. “It’s significant that you didn’t just come to school and participate in sports. You went to class, you took care of your business and you got a degree.”
Royal started distributing T-Rings within a year of becoming Texas Football head coach. His team lacked seniors because many failed out of school, and he saw the need for change. His goal was to encourage student-athletes to succeed on and off the field.
Royal designed the ring himself as the actualization of his own vision. He wanted an incentive for his student-athletes to graduate. He was also the first coach to hire an academic counselor for athletics.
The athletics department told Royal there was enough money to bring on another football coach. Instead, he hired a counselor who would strictly assist the team with academics and class registration. Lan Hewlett was UT athletics’ first academic councilor. He was called a “brain coach.”
Together, Royal and Hewlett established a culture of academic accountability within the football program. Professors would report when players missed class, and at the end of the week each player had to sign a cut report. Unless they had a legitimate excuse, the players would face consequences for skipping class.
“If you cut one on purpose, then they would run you at 5 a.m. in the morning and they would put a 20-pound dummy on your back and make you run up and down the stairs,” McWilliams said. “That’s how serious Coach Royal was about the academics, strictly because he wanted us to get a degree.”
Of the 48 lettermen on the 1963 national championship team, 45 graduated.
Early on in Royal’s tenure as head coach, a college degree wasn’t required for success in life. For those generations, technology wasn’t a factor. Many football players completed their athletic eligibility, for instance, and went on to work for the railroad.
But now, more than ever, graduating from college is necessary, even for student-athletes. McWilliams notes that less than one percent of athletes make it in professional sports.
“(The T-Ring) has done what Coach Royal wanted it to do,” McWilliams said. “It’s become an incentive to make people finish their degree.”
And now it’s an incentive for all Longhorns, not just those who play football. Once Royal became UT’s full-time athletics director in 1978, baseball coach Cliff Gustafson came to him and asked if the tradition could expand to baseball. Though Royal was originally hesitant, UT began distributing the rings to baseball and eventually all UT sports. Now, the ring is offered as a senior award.
But Royal had one condition: that the football T-Rings remain different from the other sports’. Football’s orange stone remains a light orange, while other sports’ are a darker orange.
“He wanted football to be different,” McWilliams said. “That’s still today. It was his wish that football would be different from any of the other sports. That’s what he wanted.”
There has been a positive trend of former UT athletes returning to campus to finish their degree and receive their rings. Ricky Williams, Earl Campbell, Spike Owen and Calvin Schiraldi are a few of the many athletes who returned to Austin to receive their diplomas. McWilliams said many professional athletes who have succeeded and managed their finances come back to school for the sole purpose of receiving their rings. McWilliams said former UT baseball player Charlie Crenshaw had a big party when he graduated and received his ring.
“What it’s done, even for me and the guys on the (1963 football) team that I played with, they really wanted to get that T-Ring because the championship ring took a team effort,” McWilliams said. “But the T-Ring was an individual effort. You had to do that on your own. You had to go to class, you had to work.”