By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
Former NFL coach Bum Phillips once said of Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell, “I don’t know if he’s in a class by himself, but whatever class he’s in, it don’t take long to call the roll.”
The same can be said for Campbell’s college coach, Darrell K. Royal who died Wednesday at the age of 88.
An All-American football player at Oklahoma from 1946-49, Royal is considered a traitor in some circles of the crimson and cream for his career as the winningest coach at the University of Texas, retiring in 1976 with a 167-47-5 record during his 20 seasons in Austin, Texas, including 12 wins in the Red River Rivalry. To me he was a silent friend.
I first met coach Royal in 1970 while attending the Texas-SMU football game at Memorial Stadium. He took the time to take a 14-year old, wide-eyed kid all through the locker room after the game and introduce him to all the players.
That was Royal, caring not for what people thought but how they felt. When I received my letter of acceptance to Texas, DKR called me to congratulate me on achieving a dream because it had been my dream to attend Texas.
I had three immediate thoughts after talking to Royal that day. The first was “How did he get my number?” The second was “How did he know I had applied?” My third was “He remembered me?” – this was 21 years after that day in 1970.
Once again, that was Royal. Once he met you, he never forgot you. That is why it is even sadder to hear of his passing because of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease – a diagnosis which was made public by his wife Edith during a meeting of the Joint Committee on Alzheimer’s Disease in February – because of what the disease does to a person’s memory.
When I got to campus to officially enroll, I was given a phone number at the registrar’s office and told I had to call this person. Still naïve, I made the call and yes, it was DKR welcoming me to Texas and I was to come see him immediately after finishing my business at the registrar’s office.
My first year at Texas was a struggle and I received a letter from the dean’s official telling me I was on scholastic probation. I appealed a grade and was granted the appeal which put be back in good standing but that wasn’t good enough for Royal who promised, not threatened, to kick my butt all the way to Lake Travis, about one hour north of campus, if I didn’t get my grades up.
While there were two classes over the next three years I made below a “B” in, the promise of this child of the Dust Bowl from Hollis put more fear in me that some piece of paper from the dean of the College of Communication.
After graduating in 1996, I got a job at a NCAA Division III university in Oregon. The two toughest people to say good bye to were Susana Morgan, the former women’s sports information director at the university whom I had worked for during my studies, and DKR.
In 2008, I was in Austin visiting my brother-in-law with my wife and nine-year old daughter when I decided to take my daughter to a Texas volleyball match.
Before we went to the match, I took her on a tour of the campus and we went by Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, renamed for the coach in 1996. I told her the influence the man had on my life while a student at Texas.
Now for the third time in my life, I must say good bye to Darrell K. Royal. See ya coach.