When the Texas Longhorns take to the practice field this spring, there will be a markedly different feel to practice without the presence of longtime defensive back coach Duane Akina, who announced on Friday that he will not be retained as part of new head coach Charlie Strong's staff.
The architect of modern-day DBU at Texas, Akina was always noticeable because of his fiery demeanor and constant intensity. Akina's voice was often the one that rose above the rest on the field.
When working with the defensive backs, it was always entertaining to see Akina showing off the arm strength that allowed him to play quarterback at Washington during his college days.
And the production on the field for most of his tenure was incredible, from Quentin Jammer to Nathan Vasher to Michael Huff and Michael Griffin and Cedric Griffin to Earl Thomas and Aaron Williams to Kenny Vaccaro.
Akina took track athletes like Huff and made them into hard-hitting safeties capable of turning in years of tough duty in the NFL. He believed in an undersized athlete like Earl Thomas whose only other offer was from Texas A&M and turned him into one of the NFL's best safeties. He helped harness and focus the unbelievable intensity of Kenny Vaccaro to ensure that the volatile striker could maximize his significant talents.
Among other achievements.
Texas defensive backs were also excellent in man coverage and willing tacklers. For a program that had a reputation at various times for producing soft teams, that term was rarely applicable to Akina's defensive backs.
In Akina's legendary career as Longhorn, he coached three Thorpe Award winners, six Thorpe Award finalists, and 28 NFL defensive backs. His time at Texas has included 12 first-team All-Big 12 selections.
After his departure from Texas, Akina sat down for an emotional interview.
What's apparent from that brief interview is that what defined Akina more than anything else was that he genuinely cared about his players, a necessity for any coach or teacher. The hard love and intensity and yelling was about honing better football players and better leaders.
After a season that saw some struggles in the secondary, it's hard to fiercely engage in the debate about whether Texas or LSU is currently DBU, but there's no question that Akina built DBU at Texas and though the Tigers may have edged ahead in producing NFL players in recent years, Akina's legacy and achievements will stand as some of the most consistently remarkable work in modern Texas football.
Thanks for all the great years, coach.