State of the Hogs: Darrell Royal

Darrell Royal

Texas supporters can wreak with arrogance, but you never felt that when you were around Darrell Royal.

There aren't many things Texas that I like or appreciate. Sorry, it's just a matter of the arrogance that I saw at every turn when I worked Arkansas-Texas or Oklahoma-Texas during the last 35 years as a sports reporter that covered stops in Little Rock, Conway, Tulsa and Fayetteville.

Frank Broyles covered it best when he described Texas arrogance in a radio interview last spring. Here's what the former Arkansas head coach and athletic director said about the Longhorns and why most of their rivals feel deep hatred for them:

"Everybody hates Texas," Broyles said. "People don't always say it, but they are the team everyone hates.

"They know everyone hates them and they take pride in that. Let me say, they have the fan base, the talent and they can handle it. They are arrogant. You talk to their fans, they don't think anyone is of their equal as far as academics or in athletics. Arrogant. Their arrogance is because of their success. They've earned their arrogance. They have all of the advantages."

But I have to make sure that Darrell Royal is not included in "they," because the former Texas coach wasn't like Longhorn fans or most of the others who have worn the burnt orange. Royal, who passed away Wednesday, was different.

First, he loved Arkansas people. He really did. I saw it first hand. He was gracious in defeat, humble in victory and especially so when it came to the Razorbacks. There's probably a reason. He loved Broyles. Their relationship was unique in the game of football between two fierce rivals on the field and in recruiting, but best friends everywhere else. It's probably unheard of that two giants that clashed so fiercely would vacation together with their families in the summer.

I saw the wonderful side of Royal during golf matches that my father often participated in with the coaches at Bella Vista, those great events organized by the late George Billingsley. They were done to promote the budding retirement village in Benton County, but they also helped the coaching fraternity grow tighter.

I watched gentlemen like Broyles, Royal, the late Bud Campbell and my father, Orville Henry, play golf in grand pairings that drew spectators. If you didn't know Broyles and Royal loved each other before the golf game started, you might figure it out later in the night at a social gathering when they laughed and told stories about the day's golf. There were never any gigs about what might have happened the previous fall or in recruiting. That stuff was left on the field.

I loved Royal. I can remember him bringing Willie Nelson to Hot Springs Village for the coaches golf tournament in the early 70s. No one had really heard of Nelson at that time. He was just a long-haired, hippie-looking dude with a guitar and bandana. There was an invitation to my family to come to Royal's condo for an evening of music. I sat on the floor in a corner, stunned at Nelson's work.

He sang into the wee hours of the night. Royal crowded as many into that condo as possible, wanting to share the fun with his Arkansas friends.

Barry Switzer said the Broyles-Royal relationship was unlike any he saw in the coaching world. It's hard to want to spend time with your fierce enemy away from the game. Switzer, the former Oklahoma coach with an undefeated record against Royal, said he never wanted any part of that.

"But they did," Switzer said. "Darrell would beat his butt in football and then Frank would beat his butt in golf. Actually, I know Frank won some of those games in football, but probably Darrell won most of them. I doubt Darrell beat him much in golf.

"I think when you play golf with someone, it requires spending a lot of time together. So that's how they became so close. They were the same age, had such longevity in the Southwest Conference and were together so much as the senior citizens of the league, that the passion in their friendship developed. Myself, I couldn't ever do something like that with Darrell. We had a very contentious relationship. But that wasn't Frank and Darrell at all."

The golf continued long after they retired from coaching. They would travel to a California resort in the summer to play one week of golf. They hardly slept. They took advantage of the long hours of sunlight to try to cram 45 holes into each day. They'd eat lunch on the run so as not to eliminate any of the sun light. They had a special love of golf and they kept football out of the discussion.

My father loved Royal, perhaps beyond anything he felt for other coaches. They talked often. It was not uncommon for Royal to call our home when he missed him at the office.

I remember the time I answered the home phone and ended up in a conversation of several minutes. This time, I gave Coach Royal all the information he needed.

"There is a running back at Little Rock Hall on our recruiting lists with the last name Henry," Royal said. "I want to make sure he's not one of Orville's boys. Because if he is, we are not going to waste our time recruiting him. We know he'll be a Razorback. Am I talking to him?"

I laughed and promised him that the Henry that played for Hall was not from our family, but that he was a good player. He wasn't going to be good enough to play at Arkansas or Texas, but still good.

"Well, I guess I can trust one of Orville's boys," Royal said. "Tell your dad to call me when he gets home. He'll get a kick out of this. And tell your mother hello and look forward to seeing all of you this summer at the coaches tournament."

Texas really wasn't going to recruit that Little Rock running back, but Royal just thought of my father when he saw the name and decided they needed to talk. That's how he did things. He thought of friendship first.

It was hard to hate Texas when you were around Royal. There was respect, love and friendship where Royal was concerned with most everything Arkansas. You felt that love for Royal in the Broyles statement released by the UA on Wednesday. It reflected a genuine love the two men felt. You know that Broyles, who has written a book on Alzheimer care givers, cried when he was told the news of Royal's passing.

"I am deeply saddened by the passing of my longtime friend Darrell Royal," Broyles said. "Although our teams were rivals on the field, Darrell and I enjoyed a close friendship that carried far beyond football. Our families vacationed together in the off-season and we enjoyed many memorable moments together that I always treasure.

"Darrell was one of the greatest football coaches our sport has known. His record and many accomplishments speak for themselves, but his influence on college football, the University of Texas and the impact he had in the lives of thousands of young men who played for him is impossible to fully measure.

"In the final years of his life, Darrell faced his battle with Alzheimer's with the same courage and dignity he displayed throughout his career. My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Edith, his family and the many friends and colleagues who have been a part of the extraordinary life and career of Coach Darrell Royal."

I don't hate Texas today. I will keep that out of my heart as I grieve for the Longhorn Nation. They lost a great man and a friend to Arkansas.

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