Decades after his last game, Darrell K Royal remains the winningest football coach in University of Texas history, with 167 wins, 47 losses and 5 ties from 1957-1976.
The driving force behind 11 Southwest Conference and three national championships, and honored namesake of the Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium on the UT campus, the late Royal will forever be revered among students of football history and lore.
Jenna Hays McEachern of Austin, a former Ricebird and Longhorns cheerleader and daughter of Coach Jack Hays, who took El Campo to the Class 3A state football championship in 1967, will be in El Campo Thursday to speak to the Rotary Club about Coach Royal and the book she recently published on his life. The book was published two months before Royal died on Nov. 7, 2012 at the age of 88.
She will also be at the Wharton County Branch Library in El Campo that afternoon to sign books from 4-6 p.m.
Titled DKR - The Royal Scrapbook, the book is an extraordinary collection of never-before-published photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, football ephemera and recollections that reveal the private man behind the UT football legend. Royal’s wife, Edith, worked alongside McEachern on the project.
Probably the first El Campo resident to purchase DKR was Herman Mauch Jr., who played for Coach Hays and went on to play football for Texas A&M.
“I’m an Aggie, but I still enjoyed reading about Coach Royal. He was a good person and a good coach. I think Jenna’s book is very good. The information in it is priceless,” Mauch said.
“About four years ago, Edith came up on my porch and she had a folder full of letters that Coach Royal’s secretary had kept from children. There were drawings of Bevo, and sketches of plays, letters and poems,” McEachern recalls.
“Edith said, ‘Well, I don’t know what we can do with this, but I wanted you to have these.’ It started out as letters from kids and morphed into letters from his players and friends.
“We didn’t really know what we were going to do, and letters didn’t seem to be enough to do a book. But I never in a million years would have signed on for a four-year project, which is what it ended up being. In retrospect, it was one of the greatest blessings of my life. I got to spend all that time with Coach Royal and Edith, and got to pay tribute to these two people who I think are marvelous.
“I just took that file and started looking for more letters, and I realized it needed to be a book about both of them, so that’s what started me on that road,” she said.
Football fans of all stripes from that era liked Royal.
“Whether he beat you like a drum, or whether it was always a tough series (like Texas A&M, Oklahoma or Arkansas), it didn’t matter what college you went to, he was universally respected. And that’s why I think people of that era are interested in this book, whether they went to Baylor, to Texas A&M or The University,” McEachern said.
So, how was it hanging out with Darrell Royal?
“Well, I have been a friend of his, through my daddy, since I was 18 or 19. He was a gracious gentleman who always had time for you. I would stick my head in (as a UT student), barge into his office, and here he was … the athletic director of The University of Texas…, and he’d say, ‘Well hello, Jenna, have a seat,’ as if he had nothing more important to do. And he treated everyone like that.
“He was a gentleman, and of course everyone knows about his whit (quips that became known as Royalisms). He and Edith are two of the most authentic people I’ve ever known. They treated people the same whether it was the President of the United States or somebody who needed to go to recovery from alcohol or drugs,” McEachern said.
Even in his later years, people loved the man who played football for Oklahoma University and became the head coach of the Texas Longhorns at age 32.
“He was like a rock star. Even when he was 85 years old, Randy and I took Edith and Coach Royal to the Longhorns Hall of Honor, and it was like traveling with Mick Jagger. People were running up in front of us to take pictures and all that stuff,” she laughed.
“Even during the last four years hanging out with Coach Royal when he was slowing down, I had this feeling of absolute gratitude that I had this opportunity to visit with this man who wasn’t going to be here much longer.”
McEachern’s husband Randy played quarterback for Royal during the 1977 and 1978 seasons, taking the Longhorns to a No. 1 regular-season ranking before losing in the Cotton Bowl to Notre Dame. He is in the Longhorns Hall of Honor. Their son, Hays, played football for Oklahoma.
-McEachern is the author of 100 Things Longhorn Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.
She edited One Heartbeat: A Philosophy of Teamwork, Life and Leadership and One Heartbeat II: The Road to the National Championship, both written by Coach Mack Brown and UT Sports Information Director Bill Little.
She also co-edited What It Means to Be a Longhorn, a compilation of oral histories by Darrell Royal and other Texas football greats.