AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN/AP) — Darrell K. Royal, an innovative national championship-winning coach of the University of Texas Longhorns and later a reluctant spokesman in the fight against Alzheimer disease, died early Wednesday in Austin.
He was 88.
Royal, who Longhorn football team for 23 years beginning in 1956, suffered from Alzheimer's disease and recently fell at an assisted living center where he was receiving care.
To honor his memory, the UT Tower will be bathed in orange lighting after dusk on Wednesday evening.
In addition, the LBJ Presidential Library on the UT campus has created a tribute page to Royal with photos and a telephone conversation between President Johnson and Royal.
"Darrell Royal was a coaching icon and the face of football in the Lone Star State for a generation of Texans," said Gov. Rick Perry. "His legacy can be counted in national championships, but also in his unending devotion to his university and in the Darrell K Royal Research Fund for Alzheimer's Disease."
That sentiment was echoed by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
"Coach Royal touched the lives of countless Texans, as well as people around the nation," said Hutchison, a UT alum. "I greatly admired Coach Royal as a legendary coach and as someone who always strived to help others. He was a champion on the field and off.
""He and his wife Edith have carried the torch in the battle against Alzheimer's Disease by the forming of the Darrell K. Royal Research Fund. He was a great family man and a man of deep faith."
Current Longhorns coach Mac Brown called Royal is mentor and his friend.
"I can hardly put in words how much Coach Royal means to me and all that he has done for me and my family," Brown said. "I wouldn't even be at Texas without Coach. His council and friendship meant a lot to me before I came to Texas, but it's been my guiding light for my 15 years here."
And fitting for a Texas legend, Royal did so in style as he walked into the chamber -- flanked by Matthew McConaughey on one side and Lance Armstrong on the other.
But Coach Royal's most important supporter was the one who has been by his side the longest.
His wife, Edith, told the committee how the disease has changed the lives of their entire family and asked for a collaborative state effort for a cause now attached to the coach's name.
The Darrell K. Royal Fund for Alzheimer's Research was created as the coach's latest game plan to hook another victory. This time, it was over the disease that plagued him and millions of others worldwide.
Coach Royal kept his comments that day very brief.
"I feel like I am home when I visit Austin, Texas and I visit the state Capitol" said Royal, to which the committee replied, "You are home."
Edith described to the committee how hard it is to care for someone in the advanced stages of the disease said that while Texas ranks third in the nation for the disease, most of the research takes place on the East and West coasts.
The DKR Fund for Alzheimer's Research will fund collaborative research in Texas.
Royal took over as head coach at Texas at age 32 in 1956 after starring as a halfback for Oklahoma and then taking head coaching jobs at Mississippi State and Washington.
In two decades as a head coach, he never had a losing season, with his teams boasting a 167-47-5 record in his 20 years at Texas, the best record in the nation over that period (1957-1976).
Royal won 11 Southwest Conference titles, 10 Cotton Bowl championships and national championships in 1963 and 1969, going 11-0 each time.
The national title season in 1969 included what was dubbed the "Game of the Century," a come-from-behind, 15-14 victory by the top-ranked Longhorns over No. 2 Arkansas in the final game of the regular season.
Always a proponent of a strong running game, Royal is often quoted as saying: "Three things can happen when you pass and two of 'em are bad."
Asked later in his coaching career if he might switch to a passing attack, Royal said, you've got to "Dance with the one who brung ya."
In 1968, Royal installed the wishbone, with the fullback lined up two yards behind the quarterback and a step up in front of the other two backs. With that formation, Royal's teams won 30 straight games and a record six straight SWC championships.
Royal's teams won more SWC games (109) and more overall games (167) in 20 years at Texas than any coach in league history.
Royal also served as Texas athletic director from 1962-1979 before becoming a special assistant for athletic programs to the UT president. In that capacity, he was influential in the hiring of Mack Brown as football coach in 1997.
Texas honored Royal in 1996 by renaming Texas' football stadium, Darrell K Royal-Memorial Stadium.
In announcing the name change, UT System Chancellor William Cunningham said, "No individual
has contributed more to athletics at UT-Austin than Darrell Royal. He is a living legend."
Royal was close friends with former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who attended Texas football games once his presidency ended.
"I'm not a football fan," Johnson said. "But I am a fan of people, and I am a Darrell Royal fan because he is the rarest of human beings."
Royal, who acknowledged being unconcerned about racial discrimination for much of his life and had all-white teams up until 1969, credited Johnson with turning around his viewpoint.
Royal had a folksy, straight-forward approach to football and life that credited hard work as well as luck for his success.
He was among the first football coaches in the nation to hire an academic counselor to ensure athletes went on to graduate. He also set aside a fund for a special "T'' ring, which he personally awarded to his players upon their graduation.
He was a stickler for following the rules, even when he disagreed with them.
In 1976, Royal accused then-Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer of sending a spy to Texas practices, a violation of NCAA rules if the scout was reimbursed for his work.
Royal challenged Switzer to take a lie detector test over the matter and said he would resign as coach at Texas if Switzer passed it. Switzer refused and the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry took on added intensity
Royal was the youngest of six children born to Katy and B.R. "Burley" Royal and grew up in tiny Hollis, Okla., where he chopped cotton as a young boy to help his family through the Depression.
His mother died before he was even 6 months old, and he lost two sisters to a fever epidemic before he reached the age of 11.
UT will hold a public memorial service at the Frank Erwin Center at noon on Tuesday. Mourners will be seated on a first-come, first-served basis.
The personal memorabilia collection of Royal will be offered at auction along with a private antiques collection owned by Austin restaurateur Beau Theriot.
The auction is Sunday starting at 11 a.m.
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