Football

The Statesman Interview: Fred Akers

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Story highlights
  • Akers coached Texas to within one win of national titles in 1977 and 1983.
  • His first head coaching job was at Edinburg High School in the mid-1960s; 29 of his fomer players will attend Friday's Hall of Honor induction.
  • Akers and current head coach Charlie Strong grew up within 12 miles of each other in Arkansas.

Posted September 25th, 2015

Nearly 30 years after he coached his final game at Texas, Fred Akers has received proper recognition.

Akers, 77, who has long been under-appreciated at Texas despite a successful 10-year run as Darrell Royal’s replacement, was inducted into the men’s Hall of Honor on Friday.

He averaged more than eight victories per year and guided the Longhorns to within a win of the national title in both the 1977 and 1983 seasons. Including the nine years he served as an assistant under Royal, Akers coached 19 seasons at Texas.

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His first head coaching job came at Edinburg High School in the mid-1960s. Twenty-nine of his old Edinburg players have requested tickets to Friday’s induction ceremony.

Akers lives in Horseshoe Bay with his wife, Diane. The couple has three children, including Danny, who played quarterback for the Longhorns, as well as six grandchildren, and a great grandchild that was born three weeks ago.

How did you find out that you were getting inducted?
(American-Statesman columnist) Kirk Bohls. We had worked together for years. He knew us about as well as anyone.

Hand out photo courtesy of the University of Texas Athletics Department of Randy McEachern and coach Fred Akers. Received 09/25/07.
Hand out photo courtesy of the University of Texas Athletics Department of Randy McEachern and coach Fred Akers. Received 09/25/07.

He says this induction should have come sooner. Are you surprised it didn’t?
I’m thankful that it’s there. I had the same honor at the University of Arkansas. That’s where I played. Then at the Arkansas sports hall of fame. That came later. I’ve had a little bit of work with that.

Does it mean more to be inducted as a player or as a coach?
That wouldn’t matter. Well, it does matter. You can do so much as a coach and the coach’s staff. You can really shape the whole life of these athletes that you have. Of course when you’re a player, you like that too.

Which former players do you keep in touch with?
There’s so many. We get together every so often. You get guys like Kenneth Sims, Lawrence Sampleton, Randy McEachern — but the star, the stud, and he’s a friend, is Earl Campbell. I was there with him when he got the Heisman Trophy.

Did you hear that Earl did not make the Football Writers Association of America’s 75th anniversary All-America team?
What? Man alive.

Was he the best player you coached?
Yes. Best one I ever saw.

You inherited him his senior year, right?
Yes, but I coached him as a freshman. I left to go to University of Wyoming as a head coach. And then I had an opportunity to come to Texas as a head coach. I was gonna have a man there that would help guide me in Darrell Royal. That helped.

I’m told Darrell wanted Mike Campbell, and not you, for his replacement. Was there ever friction between you and Darrell after that?
The man had all he would want in coaching in football. He’s not going to interfere with what they’re doing over in the Tower. So, no. My goodness. I ran miles and miles with him recruiting. That was good.

What do you do for fun?
I like to be with my family. We’re a tennis family. One of my daughters played tennis at Purdue when I was there. I don’t challenge anybody anymore.

Hand out photo courtesy of the University of Texas Athletics Department of Coach Fred Akers. Received 09/25/07.
Hand out photo courtesy of the University of Texas Athletics Department of Coach Fred Akers. Received 09/25/07.

Do you play at all?
I do, but I’m nursing a low back. There’s a lot of twisting. I’ve got two grandchildren (at Vandergrift) that already are ranked (freshman Charli Delmonico is No. 8 in Texas; junior Zachary Delmonico is No. 22).

Do you still speak with Craig Curry?
I haven’t talked with Craig in far too many years.

Does his dropped punt (in the 1984 Cotton Bowl) still sting?
I wanted him to get rid of that. That’s a heartbreaker. It’s hard to sleep. I’d rather our players know that they’re better than what they are trying to tell me.

The following season, your team voted three times before they finally decided to play Iowa in the Freedom Bowl. Were you going to let them not play?
We had to play. The seniors might not have wanted to play and didn’t have the heart for it, but those freshmen and sophomores and juniors, they’re there to play. We sure didn’t have a good game (a 55-17 loss). It rained. You had mud up to your ankles.

Do you still follow Texas football?
Yeah. (Akers attends practice regularly)

1997 file....University of Texas coach Fred Akers, foreground, smiles along with Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell during interview Friday morning on the NBC
1997 file….University of Texas coach Fred Akers, foreground, smiles along with Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell during interview Friday morning on the NBC “Today” show.

Do you know Charlie Strong?
Yeah. When he was coming up as a young man, his family were farmers in a little place in Arkansas called Luxora. Luxora and my town, Blytheville, are 12 miles apart. It’s amazing. I’ve known him, I’ve seen him in recruiting. He was there 12 miles from our stadium.

Do you think he’s going to win at Texas?
I do. You gotta give him some time. I was fortunate when I came from Wyoming, we won a (Western Athletic Conference) championship there. I was there two years. We had a number of people that were calling me to come back. I said I’ve got a family and they’re involved. We’ll talk about it. They talked the very next morning. Wyoming treated me very well, and we did well. But I think Charlie will do it his way. Those guys will stick with him and he’ll develop them.

Glad you don’t have to stop the spread, uptempo offenses we see today?
The main thing is guys that they’re recruiting are playing that spread offense a lot. You can put them out there and have almost a wishbone. All those handoffs that you see, their blocking is what’s accurate and what they have to have. I think it’s everybody in the country.

Do you know Mike Perrin, the new interim athletic director?
He was a good football player. Sharp guy.

Do you think he’ll do a good job?
I do. He’s fair. He’s always been fair. He wants that whole athletic department to succeed and I don’t care what sport it is. He’s gonna do very good. He’s sharp.

SEPTEMBER 22, 2015 - Former University of Texas football head coach, Fred Akers, poses for a portrait during a visit to Opie's BBQ in Spicewood Springs, Tx.,  on Tuesday, September 22, 2015.  Akers is being inducted into the University of Texas men's hall of honor.    (RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
SEPTEMBER 22, 2015 – Former University of Texas football head coach, Fred Akers, poses for a portrait during a visit to Opie’s BBQ in Spicewood Springs, Tx., on Tuesday, September 22, 2015. Akers is being inducted into the University of Texas men’s hall of honor. (RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

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