The Texas football program dates back to 1893. Each day, we look at a little piece of Longhorn history. We’re starting by looking at each Longhorn football season.
The Texas Longhorns suffered a losing season in 1956. Thirty years later, Texas suffered a losing season. Thirty years after that, Texas suffered a losing season — the difference being that Texas suffered eight losing seasons between 1986 and 2016.
But yes. When Texas hired Darrell Royal in 1956, Texas was coming off a 1-9 year, and Royal never had a sub-.500 season. Fred Akers replaced him in 1977 following a .500 season and didn’t have a losing record in his first nine seasons.
That changed in 1986, and it cost Akers his job.
Akers had to make changes to his staff in 1986. His defensive coordinator, David McWilliams, left to take the head coaching job at Texas Tech, while offensive coordinator Ron Toman left to become a coach in the NFL. Dwain Painter was hired as the new offensive coordinator, while Bob Stanley and Paul Jette took over on defense.
The first losing season in 30 years began with a loss to Stanford at home, 31-20, the third straight loss dating back to the 1985 season. Texas regrouped and beat Missouri and Rice, but those wins couldn’t mask the 47-12 loss to No. 6 Oklahoma followed by 21-14 loss to No. 14 Arkansas.
The last game Akers won at Texas was a 45-16 win over TCU on the road.
The Longhorns finished the season with losses to No. 17 Baylor on the road 18-13, and then finished the year with a 16-3 loss to Texas A&M at home.
Texas was never ranked in 1986, the first time that had happened since 1966, when Royal and Texas went 7-4.
For the first time since 1976, Texas would not be going bowling.
Sophomore Eric Metcalf was the main highlight in 1986. He was second in points, with 42, and first in all-purpose yards with 1,115.
Brian Espinosa, Blake Brawner and Duane Duncan led the defense, with Espinosa recording 118 tackles.
Jeff Ward, meanwhile, became the Southwest Conference’s all-time leader in made career field goals in 1986.
On Nov. 29, 1986, Fred Akers became the first Longhorn coach ever to officially be fired. Until then all the coaches had resigned before getting to this point. But Akers had every right to not think about resigning. He was a muffed punt away three years earlier from winning a national title. He had won 86 games in 10 season and 75 percent of his games he had won.
Six years later, Akers would tell the Austin American-Statesman that “We did a good job of (coaching at Texas) and we did it the right way. I don’t have to apologize to anybody. I think a good program was interrupted.”
However, a 2-7 bowl game record doomed Akers as well as the disastrous final season.
Akers didn’t attend the news conference with athletic director DeLoss Dodds, but he did do an interview with the CBS during the Notre Dame-USC game, telling CBS Sports: “This is my 19th year with the University of Texas, and that’s quite an investment for me and my family. It’s certainly not the end of the world. I don’t control everything that happens to me, but I can control how I react to it. I’ll land on my feet.”
Akers had five left on his contract when he was fired, and Texas was on the hook for about $455,000 owed to Akers.
Dodds said at the press conference announcing the firing that, although Akers had accomplished a lot in Austin, “sometimes it simply becomes necessary to make such a change and to inject new energy and new leadership at the top of an organization such as our football program.”
Royal was brought in as an adviser for the hire, but Dodds was the decision maker.
At the time, news reports suggested these names as possible replacements to Akers: Miami coach Jimmy Johnson, Arizona coach Larry Smith, Texas Tech coach David McWilliams and Arizona State’s John Cooper. Johnson would eventually come to the state of Texas to coach the Dallas Cowboys, while Cooper eventually left Arizona State to follow Earle Bruce at Ohio State in 1988. Smith left Arizona, but it was for the USC job.
Here’s what Cooper said at the time: “I think Texas is a great job. I think it’s considered one of the top jobs in the country. I’m sure if I was contacted, I would visit with them, but these people (in Arizona) have been great to me.”
He took those people at Arizona State to the Rose Bowl in 1986.
McWilliams went 7-4 at Texas Tech in the regular season and was named the Southwest Conference Coach of the Year. Here’s what McWilliams had to say at the time: “‘The Texas job is the farthest thing from my mind.”
It wasn’t that far from his mind.
Texas Tech hadn’t been to a bowl game in over a decade before McWilliams, and by all accounts, McWilliams was excited to coach in that game. But about a week after firing Akers, Texas hired McWilliams.
McWilliams had been on the 1963 championship team, then he joined Royal’s staff in 1970. McWilliams stayed on staff. When Leon Fuller left for Colorado State in 1982, McWilliams became the defensive coordinator and oversaw defenses that produced stars like Kiki DeAyala and Jerry Gray.
Texas Tech named Spike Dykes, another former Royal assistant coach, as the interim coach and then made it official 12 days after McWilliams left.
At the time of McWilliams’ hiring, Dodds said the coach he got was his first choice.
Akers wasted little time getting another job. He took over the Purdue Boilermakers after Purdue’s first choice, former SMU and New England Patriots coach Ron Meyer backed out of the deal to take the Indianapolis Colts head coaching job. Purdue hired Akers, and feathers were instantly ruffled when Purdue’s talented starting quarterback Jeff George transferred because of Akers’ run-centric offense.
Akers won just 12 games at Purdue and he never coached again following his ousting in 1990.
At Texas, Akers coached the first Longhorn to win the Heisman. He produced two NFL No. 1 overall draft picks, two Lombardi winners, a Outland winner and 48 All-SWC players. Only Darrell Royal and Mack Brown won more games at Texas than Akers. And his successor didn’t come close to him.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Jeff Ward’s first name.