Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Former Texas football coach Fred Akers dies at 82

By Kirk Bohls
Former Texas head coach Fred Akers went 86-31-2 in 10 years with the Longhorns in the 1970s and 1980s. He succeeded Darrell Royal after the 1976 season. Akers died on Monday at the age of 82.

Fred Akers, who succeeded Darrell Royal as Texas head football coach and twice came within a bowl victory of a national championship, died of complications from dementia at his home Monday. He was 82.

The Blytheville, Ark., native relied on great defense and special teams to carve out an impressive 86-31-2 record in a highly successful, 10-year run at Texas, but could never win that elusive championship or rally behind him a fan base that had wanted Royal’s defensive coordinator, Mike Campbell, to replace him after the 1976 season.

Ironically, it was Campbell who first spotted Akers as a coach at Lubbock High School and recommended him to Royal, for whom Akers worked nine seasons as both an offensive backfield and secondary coach.

"It is never easy following a legend, and Coach Akers followed Coach Royal by leading us to an 11-win, undefeated regular season in his first year as head coach at UT – a year when we had eight sophomores starting on defense," All-America safety Johnnie Johnson said. "I will forever remember his words of encouragement to his young defense, 'You can be young and good, too.'"

Fred Akers twice had his Texas football teams in position to win a national championship but came up short in bowl games both times. It was Akers' offensive philosophical switch from the Wishbone to the I-formation that helped Earl Campbell win the Heisman Trophy.

Texas fired Akers after the 1986 season, in which the Longhorns had gone 5-6 – the school’s first losing season in 30 years. He then coached Purdue for four seasons before retiring. He posted a career record of 108-75-3 in 16 seasons, including two years at Wyoming where he went 8-4 and won the Western Athletic Conference with a team that started eight freshmen.

Akers lived in Horseshoe Bay and is survived by his wife Diane, daughters Stacey and Lesli, six grandchildren and three great grandchildren; his son Danny preceded him in death.

A vintage "Keep Fred" cap from the 1980s is one of Texas super fan Scott Wilson's vast collection of Longhorns sports memorabilia. Wilson said he got it from an Aggie who was wearing it during rough times under Texas football coach Fred Akers.

"It's a very sad day with the news of the passing of one of our Longhorn Legends in Coach Akers. In the opportunities I had to spend time with Coach, he was always so warm and gracious," Texas head coach Tom Herman said. "The many, many great players he had at Texas have always shared such fond memories, too. He had tremendous success here and was a highly respected, all-time great in our coaching fraternity and beyond. On behalf of the Texas Football program, we send our sincere condolences to his family, friends, the numerous Longhorns he coached and worked with, as well as the many people whose lives he impacted."

Akers starred at Arkansas as a halfback, punter and kicker. He became one of the youngest high school football head coaches in Texas when he took a job in Edinburg at age 24. When he was interviewed for the job, school officials asked him about his youth, and he replied, “Are you wanting a head coach or to fill out an age requirement?”

In his first college head coaching job, Akers rode the momentum of an 8-4 season at Wyoming and a Fiesta Bowl appearance in his second year in 1976, which was enough to persuade UT President Lorene Rogers and UT System Board of Regents Chairman Allan Shivers to hire him. The two clashed with the Royal faction and chose the dapper, buttoned-down Akers after tiring of Royal’s recruiting failures against Oklahoma and association with the country-western crowd.

At Texas, Akers abandoned the wishbone offense for a more progressive I-formation, and Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Earl Campbell and a strong defense paced by All-America defensive tackle Brad Shearer carried the Longhorns to a perfect regular season and No. 1 national ranking. Texas finished 11-1 in 1977, Akers' first season. A lopsided 38-10 loss to fifth-ranked Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl cost the Longhorns their fourth national championship.

Akers came close again in 1983 with one of the best defenses in school history, led by All-America safety Jerry Gray and linebacker Jeff Leiding, but fell short.

For the second time, his team swept through the regular season without a blemish, but a 10-9 loss to No. 7 Georgia in the Cotton Bowl denied Texas the national title. Defensive back Craig Curry's fumbled punt at the Texas 23 led to the game’s only touchdown and arguably Akers' most bitter defeat. Eighteen players were selected off that 1983 team in the next year's NFL draft.

"Was absolutely one of the finest and most balanced human beings I’ve ever been around," former Akers defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said, "besides being a Hall of Fame Coach."