Culpepper's Commentary: Meeting Coach Royal

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By Pat Culpepper, Special to Inside Texas
Posted Apr 2, 2010
Copyright © 2019 InsideTexas.com


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Darrell Royal (Texas Sports Photography)

Today, I’m going to be with my college football coach again. The last time I was in his company my wife and I rode in a van with Darrell Royal and his wife Edith to the 2009 Kansas-Texas football game. His parking spot is as close as you can get to Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium by car and as soon as we all got out of Marvin Bendele’s automobile fans began to stop to shake the coach’s hand or take his picture with their children or get next to him for cellphone shots.

The man won 184 games for the University during his 20-year stay and three of his teams – 1963, ’69 and ’70 – won national football championships. I was part of 26 of those wins during my three years on the Longhorn varsity and served as an assistant coach on the 1963-64 Texas teams.

I still remember the first freshman football meeting in the bottom of the Texas Athletic Dorm in August of 1959. There were 55 of us, all scholarship football recruits.

Coach Royal came in the front of the room dressed in coaching gear of a white t-shirt, khaki coaching shorts, white socks, black rubber-soled coaching shoes and wearing a white cap with a blocked orange “T” on the front.

We had been through a day of academic orientation, a short tour of the campus and moving into our rooms on the top floor of Moore-Hill Hall.

Freshman coach Bob Schultz, who had won a state championship at Houston’s Lamar High School before coming to Texas, had introduced us to the freshman assistant coaches before Coach Royal came into the room.

The Varsity Longhorns had already arrived on campus and gone through several workouts and it was quite a group of talented players made up in large part by one of the Longhorns’ greatest recruiting classes in 1957 – James Saxton from Palestine; Mike Cotten from Austin; Jack Collins from Highland Park; and David Russell from Amarillo. All four had played in the Texas high school all-star game. They were the new breed at Texas; all would play a large part in taking Texas from a contending position in the Southwest Conference to challenging for national honors.

Royal and his staff had weeded out those that cared nothing for class and were problems in the dormitory. Drill sergeant and offensive line coach Jim Pittman wasn’t a man to cross and it didn’t take long for athletes recruited under ‘gool old boy’ Ed Price to understand a huge change had come to Austin and the Texas football team under Royal.

Little did we know that we would be part of a football team three years later in 1961 that would hold down the No. 1 spot in college football for four weeks and win Darrell Royal’s first bowl victory.

One thing for sure, the man at the blackboard was the man in charge. His messages were always brief, to the point and left little room for doubt. He was always in a hurry to get to the important matters at hand.

He took off his baseball cap and pitched it perfectly to a nearby empty desk. It landed with the “T” facing the group and he smiled like he meant to do it that way.

“First of all, welcome from all our staff. Your first practice is in the morning and I know Coach Schultz and his staff are ready to tell you about what you’ll be doing.”

The coach reached around for the chalkboard trey and then turned back to the group.

“Whether you make it at Texas depends on three things and I want to put these on the board for you to understand and remember.”

He turned and in an incredibly neat print wrote the following with white chalk on the clean, green board:

1.    Grades
2.    Conduct
3.    Determination

Coach Royal turned back and put the piece of chalk on the desk near his cap.

“If you miss class or miss study hall or a tutoring session you are headed in the wrong direction as far as we are concerned. We promised your parents to help you toward a degree and you should consider (academic advisor) Lan Hewlett just like one of our coaches. Do what he says. You can’t play if you can’t make your grades.”

He picked up the chalk and circled the number one on the board, then turned back to the group.

“Number two, all of you know right from wrong and I think I’ve met most of your parents, grandparents, even aunts and uncles. They are very proud of you and the opportunities you have here at Texas. You have a great chance to do something most of them never had. If you stay busy with schoolwork, football and associate with people that your parents would approve of you have a chance to make it. If you embarrass the University or our football program we will take immediate action. If you wonder whether something is right or not it’s probably best for you to walk away from the situation.”

Then he walked to the table where his coaching cap lay, picked it up, put it on his head and walked nearer the group of young men he and his staff had recruited.

“Everybody in this room is going to face a challenge to make the varsity team in another year. There will be bruises, injuries and your name may be on the bottom of the depth chart at your position, but I’ll guarantee some of you will make it. It takes determination to do anything in life that’s worthwhile. When I got here (1956-57) nobody thought we had much of a chance against Oklahoma or Bear Bryant’s A&M team. We beat A&M in College Station that first year and got Oklahoma last season.”

The coach walked closer to our group.

“Make no mistake, we are going to have good teams here at Texas and if you pay attention to what we ask of you and are determined, you’ll be part of those teams.”

With that, he waved to Coach Schultz, smiled and said, “Okay, Bob,” and then he was gone.

I’m sure in future years Coach Royal talked to his recruits about national championships but with these early groups – the building blocks – it was the basic ingredients that make up almost any successful becoming-an-adult undertaking. I have been ever thankful I was part of that.

Now, 51 years later, 30-35 of us who played for Coach Royal meet at a Mexican restaurant in Westlake every year at this time to see and talk about “our” coach. There is Tommy Nobis and Johnny Treadwell, the true No. 60s for Texas, both stalking, hitting linebackers for Coach Royal. Mike Cotten and James Street were quarterbacks of Coach Royal’s two unique offensive formations, the flip-flop Wing T and the Wishbone. Frank Bedrick and Bob McKay were bedrock linemen for line coach Jim Pittman and Willie Zapalac. Jack Collins and Chris Gilbert represent two of the very best running backs of the 1960s. Tom and Mike Campbell are there, and what their father meant to Darrell Royal goes beyond words. For 20 years Mike Campbell was Royal’s defensive coordinator and strong right arm.

Coach Royal at 85 is not the same man as the coach that addressed my freshman class at age 35, but deep inside he knows his boys and what we went through with him; how he had to grab James Street by the arm and assure him “53 veer pass” was the right call against Arkansas in 1969, or having to tell Jack Collins he needed him to move to wingback for the 1961 season after two brilliant seasons as a running back, and he can still remember answering the question as to when Texas would play its players only one way (“When Tommy Nobis graduates”).

You might say he was the Mack Brown without the bells and whistles. Royal had to build Texas football from an abyss of poor facilities, players not graduating and staggering losses to Oklahoma.

He’ll take his “T” ring to his grave just like the boys who paid the price for him.

It will be a sad day indeed when there is nobody at that head table in one of the football letterman weekends at the end of the Longhorns’ spring practice.

Pat Culpepper played for The University from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.

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