Bill Little commentary: What it means to be a Longhorn -- Darrell Royal
The scene is a Mexican restaurant west of Austin, and "The Gathering" is a regular event. Once a month, they will come by car and truck, some walking with brisk steps and others rejuvenated with a hand-steered four-wheeled walker.
What it Means To Be a Longhorn
It was a long list, and I wasn't on it.
The University of Texas was looking for a new head football coach in December of 1956. We were in our first year at the University of Washington, and I had never been mentioned as a candidate for the Texas job. I remember once that Edith and I were driving through Austin, and we drove around the campus. I thought at the time, 'This sure would be a nice place to coach.'
Ed Price had resigned after the 1956 season after Texas had finished 1-9. They had interviewed some high profile coaches, including Bobby Dodd from Georgia Tech and Duffy Daugherty from Michigan State, but both had turned the job down.
After a few more unsuccessful inquiries, the athletics council and the regents wanted so much to change that they came around to the thinking of, "Who's the young coach out there who's on the rise? It's not working to go for the old, established coach, so let's find some young coach."
So they called Duffy, and he gave them my name, and they called Bobby Dodd, and he gave them my name. They placed the calls so that the coaches wouldn't have time to consult with one another and decide on a pick. They got individual opinions, and both of 'em recommended me. Prior to their calling those two coaches, I wasn't on the list. I was nowhere to be found. My name had never come up, and I just wasn't a candidate.
But Coach Dodd knew me when I was at Mississippi State, and Duffy had always been a good friend of Coach (Bud) Wilkinson's at Oklahoma, and I had met him at the national conventions. It just so happened that both of them thought of me.
Edith and I were in bed in Seattle, Wash. I'd been talking about the Texas job, and that it sure would be nice if we could land down here. Seattle was so far away. Coaches didn't make the money then that they make today. We couldn't afford to pay for a trip to take the kids on an airplane to visit their grandparents in Oklahoma, and it was too far to drive because the vacation would be half over by the time we drove down there. So I was hoping Texas would call, but I wasn't full of myself enough to throw my name out there.
We were just going to sleep when the phone rang. The voice said, "Hello, Darrell, this is D. X. Bible from The University of Texas calling." I covered up the end of the phone and said, "Edith, this is it, this is The University of Texas." Just the fact that he was calling made me think maybe they were thinking of me, and of course, he invited me to come in for an interview.
Just as I supposed, The University of Texas was a great place to come to. But we had a lot of work to do. The guy who walks into a 1-9 record does not inherit a warm bed. Mr. Bible was on his last days as athletics director, and a lot of things needed to change. The dressing rooms hadn't had anything done to them in a long time. The facilities were sub-par for The University of Texas, or at least for what I had in mind. They had all of the assistant coaches in one room, and each had a phone on his desk. They had to try to carry on recruiting conversations with all of them talking at the same time, in the same room. I didn't have a secretary, we had just one for all the football coaches.
But the changes we needed were obvious. I knew that any time I made a correction in the dormitory, or the facilities, or the working conditions, I was on the correct side. I wasn't overbearing. We just couldn't tolerate it the way it was.
I kinda welcomed those things that I saw that were run down and not up to date, because it was a change that could be made to better The University of Texas athletics program. It was discouraging in a way, but it was encouraging in another.
I started asking questions. I remember going to the stadium and seeing it surrounded by barbed wire and a chain link fence with grass growing up it. I asked what purpose it served, and they told me that it was where they took up tickets. I asked if we couldn't move the gates back to the stadium, and make it look nicer. They said they didn't know, that it had just always been there. We had to find new ways to do things, on the field, in the dorm, and with the program. The important thing was, they wanted it to be different, and so did I.
The University of Texas has never been satisfied with second or third place. The people who have gone to school here demand better than that. A lot of them have had great success after they got out of here, and they couldn't understand why The University of Texas wasn't winning consistently, why they couldn't occasionally win the conference. The conference was the thing when I got here. The National Championship was way out of sight. We were fighting for lone victories, which would lead us into the conference championship. And then when we got the conference championship, the goal was to win it all.
To go through undefeated, you have to escape from a very, very tight trap where you are going to be beaten if something doesn't happen. It's the same way with winning close. You have to be careful that those adverse things don't happen to you. And you are just lucky if you go through the season undefeated, because later you can look back and see where you could have lost a couple of games.
That really is what happened to us. In the 1960s, we had a tremendous run. From 1961 through 1970 we finished in the top five seven times, won seven Southwest Conference championships and had three National Championships. We had great coaches, and great players, and as I said, the ball bounced right for us a whole lot of times.
When I think of what it means to be a Longhorn, I would define it in three words: "It's a chance."
It's an honor to be a Longhorn, but to me, it has always stood for a chance. If we make the right moves, we've got a chance to be with the people at the top. That same thing isn't true of every school. Some of them just have no chance to go to the top. The University of Texas certainly provides that chance. It's a good recruiting tool to talk about the history of The University, and to explain that to young prospects. It's about being the state university, and it's about pride, but it is always about opportunity. Mr. Bible set a standard for coaches that has been lived up to several times. You have a chance to do it here, and that chance is what makes it a great coaching job.
And it is always important to maintain your integrity. I grew up in a time where we were sometimes dirt poor, and the only thing you really had was your character and your integrity. The University of Texas has always stressed that. I tried to do the right thing in recruiting by the rules and in graduating kids, and I had it explained to me when I was hired that anything shy of that would not be tolerated at The University of Texas. But they didn't have to tell me, that's what I was gonna do, anyway.
I was 52 years old when I stepped away from coaching, and I have now spent 50 years of my life in association with The University of Texas. It's a great reunion when I run across the old players, and the memories are strong.
People have often asked me how I would like to be remembered, and my answer is pretty simple. I tell them that, on my tombstone, I don't want that I "never made a mistake."
I'd like for it to say, "He meant well."
-- Darrell Royal