The Statesman Interview: David McWilliams

Story highlights
  • David McWilliams has worn many hats during his time at Texas — All-Southwest Conference player, member of the 1963 national championship team, assistant coach, head coach and head of the university’s athletic fund-raising machine.

Posted August 28th, 2015

David McWilliams can barely maneuver around his tiny Longhorn Foundation office cluttered with boxes numbered in black ink as he works his final days on the seventh floor of the north end zone in Royal-Memorial Stadium.

The 12-pound, 10-ounce mounted black bass that he took out of a private lake near Athens in East Texas on a fishing trip with former Longhorns basketball coach Leon Black remains on the wall behind a largely barren shelf. So are a couple of cheesy motivational placards. One advertises “Free Beer. … Tomorrow.” The other advises visitors, “There Will be a $5 Charge For Whining.”

Already packed are the 212 souvenir footballs, including several signed by such luminaries as Darrell Royal, Mack Brown, Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno, Bo Schembechler and Grant Teaff, packed away in boxes that will need room in his and wife Cindy’s Austin home.


McWilliams has worn many hats, even some of the 13 Longhorns caps still hanging on one of the office walls.

His last day as director of the T Association alumni group is Monday.

When he walks out that door for the final time, he will sever nearly a half-century relationship with the University of Texas, a career that has spanned the gamut from All-Southwest Conference player and captain of the 1963 national championship team to beloved if largely unsuccessful head coach from 1987-91.

He took Texas to a 10-2 record and the brink of a national title in 1990 before getting smothered by Miami in Cotton Bowl. Then he stepped down as coach after the 1991 season even though he’d been given a five-year extension after 1990, when he was a finalist for national coach of the year.

He’s also been the chief fund-raiser for the Longhorn Foundation and as such raised more than $6 million in endowed scholarships. He’s run the prestigious Hall of Honor. And as he follows DeLoss Dodds, Butch Worley, Bill Little and others into retirement or other work, he takes with him a wealth of institutional knowledge as one of an ever-shrinking conduits to the Longhorns’ glorious past:

University of Texas coach David McWilliams in August, 1990. (Ralph Barrera/The Austin American-Statesman)
University of Texas coach David McWilliams in August, 1990. (Ralph Barrera/The Austin American-Statesman)

How old are you?

I’m 73. But I don’t feel 73.

So what are you going to do with all your free time?

I don’t know. I’m still on the local board of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and I’ve talked to my church, University Avenue Church of Christ, about volunteering. That’d give me something to do. I used to go to church there when I was a player. I wasn’t an every-weeker, but I’d get up and go whenever my mom knew I wasn’t going.

How are your kids?

All of them live here now except for Hunter, who just left Cal-Berkeley where he was quality control coach to coach wide receivers at Navarro College in Corsicana. He and his wife, Catherine, just had a baby girl. Dennis, my oldest, moved here. He’s the CEO of a company called Apollo that makes a device that fights obesity and can cure wounds in half the time. The company has 150 employees in 40 countries. He and his wife, Clarissa, have two boys. Christian, who will be a seventh grader at Hill Country, and Hudson, who’s 9. Corby’s the CEO of a local commercial real estate firm. He and Stephanie have a girl named Sunny, who’s 6. And Summer and her husband, Mike Milliman, who was a captain in the Marines who flew helicopters, have two Labs. A pure black one named Smoky and a white one they call Yeti.

Were you a great athlete at Cleburne?

No. I couldn’t play basketball. I was on the JV team. My dad had a rule that if you started a sport, you had to play the whole season. (Laughing) My JV coach asked me if I’d ever thought about playing football full-time. I couldn’t shoot at all. My JV coach called my dad and said it was OK with him if I quit, so I did. … In baseball, I couldn’t hit the ball. When I batted, I tried to lean into the pitch and get hit.

But you were a star in football.

I led the state of Texas with 22 interceptions my senior year. I had the record for a long time. I studied film a lot, and I had a knack for breaking on the ball. Of course, offenses weren’t spread out like they are now. The most I had in a game was four, against La Marque in the quarterfinals my senior year in 1959 when we tied Breckenridge 20-20 in the state finals. That was (future Longhorns assistant and wishbone inventor) Emory Bellard’s team, and they were like 20-point favorites. We were down eight points, but Timmy Doerr (a future Longhorns back), who was our junior quarterback, scored on a rollout and scored two points on the same play to tie it.

When you were in high school at Cleburne, you visited Oklahoma, didn’t you?

Yes, I went to OU first. Me and Bill Early, my teammate who was an offensive guard. It was a good visit. Of course, every recruit you talked to was from Texas. I liked coach (Bud) Wilkinson but I didn’t know how long he was going to stay the coach. Since they were in the Big Eight, I didn’t know how many games my mom and dad could see me play.

David McWilliams, a key University of Texas football player who participated in the game against TCU, November 18, 1961. The final score was 6-0; Texas lost. The photo is not from the TCU game. (University of Texas Athletics Department.)
David McWilliams as a University of Texas football player. (University of Texas Athletics Department)

But you signed with Texas and lost a lot of weight before you arrived, right?

Yeah, I played at 190 pounds my senior year of high school. I reported at 172 pounds. I played in the Wigwam Wisdom of the World high school All-American game in Baton Rouge, where it rained every morning and every night before practice. Talk about hot. Then I played in the Texas High School All-Star game in the Cotton Bowl. I also worked on a ranch in Aledo with (Pat) Culpepper, busting rock with a sledgehammer. When I showed up in Austin, I’m not sure the coaches recognized me.

How many freshmen were in your recruiting class?

I think it was 42 or 44. One year we signed 57. I was like the fifth or sixth-string center on the freshman team because my last name started with an M. They lined us up alphabetically. I think there were seven centers. Only Clarence Bray and I stayed. We went 5-0 our freshman year.

Did you start your first varsity game as a sophomore?

No. I was behind Dave Kristynik. Perry McWilliams (no relation), who was a junior, and I alternated in 1961. We were so good as a team that the second team lettered before the first team. Tommy Ford and Jerry Cook lettered before (star) Jimmy Saxton did. When we played Cal-Berkeley, our second team played half of the first half and almost all of the second half. I really think the amount of minutes we all played in ‘61, we credited with our winning the national championship in 1963.

You were a real brain, weren’t you? I know you were a math major. What was your GPA?

I don’t know about that. I finished fifth in my class of high 90s at Cleburne. At Texas they calculated the GPA on a 3.00 scale. I had a 2.80. I think I maybe made a C in freshman chemistry. Once I made a B-plus-plus in English. That really made me mad.

How did you view Coach Royal?

More as he was the boss. The assistant coaches were your buddies.

What did you think of Gary Shaw’s book “Meat on the Hoof” that took the program to task for using degrading drills to try to run off players?

That was one person’s opinion. He thought they were trying to run him off. I did all those drills he wrote about. None of us felt that way. I just looked at it as competition. I was always trying to get in line to go against Perry so I could prove I could block better.

What’s the one game that got away you still feel bad about?

The one we lost to TCU, 6-0 (Texas’ only loss in a 10-1 season in 1961). Buddy Iles caught the long pass (50-yard touchdown) from Sonny Gibbs. They never crossed the 50 after that. We had like three field goals (two) we missed. It was just a nightmare. I remember one fourth down when we ran a bootleg. I was playing guard that game. I pulled on the play, but I made a mistake and I turned back to block a guy who was pursuing. I knew I did wrong. They tackled Mike Cotten for a loss. That was not a good day.

Who was the best player you ever coached?

Eric Metcalf. Eric could play any skill position you wanted. He could return punts, return kicks. He could have been a defensive back. He could pass-block. He was tough. Tommy Nobis is certainly the best linebacker I ever saw. And Britt Hager was one of the better linebackers. He could take a center straight on and whip ‘em and then go to the sideline to make a tackle.

What was the highlight of your coaching career?

I think the first time we beat Oklahoma (in 1989, his third try). We hadn’t beaten them in quite a while. It was pretty cool when we beat Oklahoma. I think we beat ‘em three times. We couldn’t necessarily beat anybody else, but we could beat OU.


Click on any photo to see a photo gallery of David McWilliams through the years 

Coach McWilliams and his players look out to the dismal prospects for the second half, as they wait in the tunnel for the end of the OU half-time show on Oct. 8, 1988. (Smiley N. Pool / American-Statesman)
Coach McWilliams and his players look out to the dismal prospects for the second half, as they wait in the tunnel for the end of the OU half-time show on Oct. 8, 1988. (Smiley N. Pool/American-Statesman)

Did only one year at Texas Tech not prepare you for the monster the Texas job is?

I think I already knew the monster. My regret was I was really disappointed in the ‘91 (5-6) season. We had a pretty good group coming back. We couldn’t do anything on offense that year. After that it was time for me to step down and let somebody else take a crack at it. I remember one night I went home and my daughter, Summer, was, how old, maybe 6 or 7. She told me, “Daddy, I saw on TV that you’re going to be fired. If you do, is Santa Claus still going to come?” I told her I didn’t know if I was going to be fired, but you don’t have to worry about Santa Claus. He’ll keep coming.’

What do you remember about the Houston game that you won 45-24 in 1990?

That game really stands out. I’ve never seen our crowd more excited before the game, during the game and after the game. That sticks out.

How about the finish to the Arkansas game in 1987, when Tony Jones caught the touchdown pass on the last play of the game for a 16-14 win?

I saw Tony get the ball and get hit and turned around by the safety. I’m watching the back judge, and he’s not signaling touchdown. Everybody on our sideline is jumping up and down, screaming and hollering. The line judge runs in and signals touchdown. Two plays before, we had Eric Metcalf wide open, but Bret (Stafford) didn’t see him. On the last play, it was Bret who called the play. He and (offensive coordinator John) Mize and I were discussing it, and I asked Bret, ‘What do you want to do?’ Bret said he wanted to sprint to the right and take the safety out of the play, and he’d throw the ball to Tony on a post route. I said, “Run it.”

How painful was your last year in 1991?

I was disappointed in the gambling (scandal) and some other stuff. We had the great year in 1990, and I anticipated another good year. But we lost five defensive starters that year, and three in the secondary. Our middle linebacker’s knee was messed up. I’d have liked to have stayed longer, but it was time. I was really discouraged. It was time for me to get out.

Why didn’t you coach again?

I’m at the best school you can possibly be at. Now I’d have to start all over and work real hard to get back to a place like Texas. My kids were all born in Texas. I had options. I had four years left on my contract. I had two people talk to me about being their defensive coordinator. Steve Spurrier at Florida and Bobby Bowden at Florida State, although I might have just coached a position with Bobby. They were short conversations. I didn’t follow up on them.

(Deborah Cannon/American-Statesman)
(Deborah Cannon/American-Statesman)

Any regrets for stepping down under pressure as head coach?

The day I got out, I knew I was going to miss the competition, a fourth-and-1 at the goal line against Notre Dame or OU. I knew I was going to miss the players. And I’d miss the salaries. Not necessarily all in that order.

Did you have trouble watching Longhorns games after that?

I didn’t sit in the stands. I didn’t want people coming up to me and asking me what happened. I was at the Stanford game. Mack (Brown) always left me a seat on the plane. We were alternating quarterbacks, and one guy comes up to me and ask me what was happening. I said, “Look, buster, if I knew what was happening, I’d still be on the sideline coaching and I won’t be answering your stupid questions.”

How about home games?

Starting in ‘92, I’d go down to the tunnel leading to the photo deck and I’d walk back and forth. Did that at every home game since ‘92. I didn’t want to sit by anybody, and I didn’t want to answer any questions.

And where will you watch in the future?

I won’t be in the hallway. I’m trying to figure out where I’m going to be.

How has it been working for Steve Patterson?

The truth is after you’ve worked for somebody like DeLoss for 31 years, it’s different. It’s not wrong, just different. And that’s OK. I decided last October. I walked into his office and told him I would be leaving, and he agreed. He’s been very good to me and let me do it my way.

Do you know Charlie Strong very well?

I really don’t know him at all.

Has the Texas brand slipped?

I don’t know who decides that. I think any time when you’re down some, that’s gonna sag. But I don’t think it’s ever going to go away. And it’s always ready to jump up again and be No. 1. People may not buy as many T-shirts if you lose. Coach Royal went through it (with three straight four-loss seasons). Then all of a sudden he wins 30 in a row. It’s pretty evident you got to get a quarterback. Then you’ve just got to step up and play.

University of Texas coach David McWilliams gives the
University of Texas coach David McWilliams gives the “Hook ‘Em Horns” salute, after his Texas Longhorns defeated Texas A&M in Decemeber 1990. (American-Statesman staff)


Age: 73

Now: Soon-to-be retired director of UT’s T Association alumni group.

Then: Former Longhorns head coach — and before that, the former coach at Texas Tech, and before that, a former Longhorns assistant coach under Darrell Royal, and before that, an All-SWC offensive lineman and captain of Texas’ 1963 national championship team.

  • He replaced Fred Akers as UT’s coach, leading Texas to a 31-26 record from 1987-91. That included the “Shock the Nation” season of 1990, which saw the Longhorns go 10-2 and to the brink of a national title. That year, McWilliams was a finalist for national coach of the year.
  • As a senior at Cleburne High School, McWilliams led the state in interceptions.
  • McWilliams’ most memorable win? The 1989 win over Oklahoma, which snapped a five-game winless streak against the Sooners. His most memorable loss? He points to the 6-0 loss to TCU in 1961 — Texas’ lone loss that season.
  • As a player, McWilliams helped lead Texas to a 30-2-1 record.
  • Texas wasn’t his only coaching gig. After graduating, McWilliams spent four years as the head coach of Abilene High (21-17-2) and later coached Texas Tech for one year (1986, 7-4) before returning to the Longhorns.