1996 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Try to do better today than yesterday."
The youngest of six children, Darrell Royal was born in 1924 in Hollis, Oklahoma. His mother died from cancer when he was still an infant. The family moved in with his grandparents until Royal was five. At that time, his father remarried and built a small house for his family. Just as the Depression took a firm hold, one of his sisters died from food poisoning, and then another sister died from a heart ailment. His sister's husband and two children moved into the already crowded household. All this took place during the long drought that choked the Midwest. "We used to sleep with wet cloths over our faces to filter the dust," says Royal.
During this time, Royal's father worked on WPA government projects for 10 cents an hour. The children did their part to contribute, and Royal took on a paper route. In the fall, he picked bolls of cotton. "I'd pick about 400 pounds in a day," he says, "and got 50 cents per 100 hundred pounds."
When he wasn't working, Royal enjoyed playing football, but he didn't own a ball. Instead, he used a baking powder can because it was about the same size. Eventually, he and his brothers went in together and bought a rubber football for $1.50. To make the ball last, they ruled they could never actually kick the ball.
Royal moved with his family to California at the age of 14. The coach at his new high school told him he didn't weigh enough to play football, so, with his father's permission, he hitchhiked back to Oklahoma and lived with his grandmother until he finished high school. World War II broke out during his senior year and Royal volunteered for the Army Air Force. He played football for the 3rd Air Force team during his last year in the service and was recruited by scouts to play at the University of Oklahoma.
Royal earned a degree in business, but knew he wanted to coach football. After serving as assistant coach at several schools, he became head coach at Mississippi State and then at the University of Washington. He joined the University of Texas as head coach in 1956. During his tenure there, the Longhorns finished in the top 10 nationally 11 times, and were national champions three times. In 23 years as a head coach, he never had a losing season. Royal is credited with "flip-flop" to the winged-T, allowing the offense to flip right or left. Then, in 1968, he installed the famed wishbone formation, which won his teams 30 straight games and a record six straight Southwest Conference Championships. He was inducted into the National Football Hall of Fame in 1983.* Deceased