Darrell Royal: Celebrating A Life Well-Lived

Erich Schlegel

The man who made Texas a national power has passed away, but he was so much more than a football coach.

He was always the smartest man in the room and never felt compelled to prove it.

Darrell Royal, a coaching legend and the face of Longhorn football for decades, has passed away.

It comes as no surprise, since he has been battling Alzheimer's for years, but it doesn't lesson the shock or the loss. There will be more in-depth looks in the life of this remarkable man, but for now I wanted to touch on a few of the qualities that made him so much more than a good football coach.

When a childhood hero of yours dies, it brings your own mortality into focus. When you were fortunate enough to have known the person later professionally it sets off all sorts of emotions and memories.

My father was the General Manager of the Driskill Hotel (we lived on the 12th floor) and as such he had a professional relationship with Royal and the UT Athletics Department. My parents became social friends with the Royals and it was not unusual to see them at the hotel for various functions.

Later when I went into sports broadcasting, I ended up covering the man who coached the team I grew up idolizing. I learned a lot observing Darrell Royal over those years, almost none of it concerning football.

One of the most important lessons I took from him was his ability to compartmentalize aspects of his life.

For Darrell Royal football was his passion -- it was never his life.

That is as aspect of Royal that Longhorn fans should be especially thankful for. There was no chance of a Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno scenario at Texas. There was no chance of Royal coaching until he had one foot in the grave -- like his friend Bear Bryant.

Royal understood the cutthroat nature of the business and that it was results-oriented. When he reached the point where he no longer felt he could give the effort needed to succeed he "set his bucket down."

As I said much has been written about his career and its end in 1976. A story he relayed after his retirement gives a look into his mindset. Royal was on a recruiting trip and the kid was not at home. Royal and an assistant were sitting in the living room with the mother when the youngster showed up.

The kid looks at Royal and says, "you're sitting in my chair man."

Royal jumped right up to give the kid the seat.

There are many more examples of his ability to see both the macro and micro view of the program, but I will point out just one more.

Talk with just about anyone who played for Royal and they will tell you the same thing. He was tough, demanding and he created an atmosphere of performing under pressure. But he also was genuinely interested in their life after football. The NFL was not the all-powerful league it is now for most of Royal's career, and he worked to make sure they were prepared for life after football.

Making sure his players took advantage of the educational opportunity was important and Royal enhanced it by creating the position of Academic Advisor for college athletes and by giving every player who graduated a T-Ring.

Those rings are as important to former players as any conference championship ring.

There is a former player of coach Royal's who is also battling with Alzheimer's. He reportedly is in the advanced stage of the disease. A teammate of his dropped by to visit recently.

His friend didn't recognize him -- until he showed him his T-Ring.

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