COMMENTARY – Not too many people reading this column will remember much about a man named Darrell K. Royal, who passed away earlier today.
I will never forget him.
Royal, the former coach of the University of Texas, was one of my childhood heroes. Though I never met the man, I can honestly say he had a tremendous impact in helping me become the man I am.
See, I grew up in southwest Texas, where football was King and the men who orchestrated this grand spectacle were larger than life. To me, there was nothing more glorious than the sport and nothing more captivating than the Texas Longhorns.
We lived less than an hour from Austin, the capital of the state and the home of UT. Burnt orange blood practically coursed through my veins.
And Royal was the man who made it all happen at Texas. The inventor of the wishbone offense and a firm believer in respect, integrity and discipline, Royal had no time for cheaters or laziness.
“Football doesn’t build character. It eliminates the weak ones,” he used to say, though he was known to spend extra time with players who had personal problems, helping them sort out what they wanted in life.
He didn’t preach, but rather was a teacher. He didn’t complain, often saying, “Sometimes you have to suck it up and just call a number.”
Royal, who never had a losing season in 23 years as a head coach, was 167-47-5 all-time, capturing two National Championships and winning the Cotton Bowl 10 times.
His coaching philosophy was simple: Run the ball. Play tough defense and make your own breaks.
“You’ve got to think lucky,” he said. “If you fall into a mudhole, check your back pocket – you might have caught a fish.”
He was not a fan of the passing game and used to say that there are three things that can happen when you pass the ball and two of them are bad.
And though he once won 30 straight games and coined the phrase, “you’ve got to dance with the one who brung ya.,” Royal was most known for doing the right thing.
He was the first to hire an academic adviser and tutor for a football program and went out of his way to make sure his players graduated.
Royal helped integrate Texas football in the 1960s and had no time for the shenanigans pulled by other coaching luminaries like Barry Switzer and Bear Bryant.
Instead, he worked hard, taught his players values like honesty and integrity and expected the best effort from everyone associated with the Texas football program.
Former President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “I’m not a football fan, but I am a fan of people, and I am a Darrell Royal fan because he is the rarest of human beings.”
Being in southern Utah, a long way from the oil-filled air of southwest Texas, there is little to remind me of those golden years of my youth. I see no oil derricks, no F-16-sized mosquitoes, no sandlots full of sticker-grass.
But one thing does hearken me back to Texas. I see every day here in southern Utah coaches like Darrell Royal. People who try to teach their players about life, not just sports. People who understand that winning a game is important, but not near as important as keeping your word. People who have integrity and live and teach with the little or no selfishness.
Darrell Royal is gone, but I like to think that his legacy lives on in every coach who hugs a player whose girlfriend just dumped them, or spends a few minutes away from the playing field to help a kid understand algebra or loans a kid his personal copy of a book because the kid can’t afford to buy one.
Without knowing it, these special coaches, the ones that go beyond sports and help our children be better people, are carrying on something special.
The old coach once said, “I learned this about coaching: You don’t have to explain victory and you can’t explain defeat.”
Coach Royal doesn’t have any explaining to do now. Actually, he never did.
Andy Griffin is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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