Former Texas Longhorns head coach Fred Akers passed away on Monday at the age of 82.
Akers faced one of the most difficult challenges of any Longhorns head coach — he was the replacement for Darrell K Royal, who remains the winningest coach in school history. Despite facing that significant pressure, Akers was successful, going 86-31-2 over 10 seasons and winning the Southwest Conference title in 1977 and 1983. The Longhorns also posted three 10-win seasons and four top-10 finishes under Akers, who coached Earl Campbell to the Heisman Trophy in 1997.
“There is so much to say about the relationship I had with Fred,” Campbell said. “As a coach, he believed in me more than I did when he took over the team. I remember running for over 200 yards one evening in College Station and he told me that the Heisman was all mine. He was so well dressed and carried himself in such a smooth way, too, I am really going to miss him. His wife, Dianne, is a special lady and I want to send my condolences to her and his entire family. My brothers and I tell people all of the time to go back and look at the talent Fred coached at The University. Not sure if he gets the proper acknowledgment that he deserves, but he did a lot of great things for Texas Football.”
An Arkansas native who coached Texas high school football before joining Royal’s staff in 1966, Akers took over the Longhorns program in 1977 facing a key decision — how to properly utilize Campbell. Akers decided to switch to an I formation offense to showcase Campbell and the move paid off, as Texas went 11-0, won the Southwest Conference title, and played for a national championship against No. 5 Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl, though the team fell short in a 38-10 defeat.
Over the next five years, the Horns won at least nine games in four seasons, including a No. 2 national ranking to end the 1981 season.
The 1983 season opened with high expectations — Texas was ranked No. 3 nationally and fulfilled those high expectations with an undefeated regular season. Once again, Akers led the Longhorns to the Cotton Bowl with a potential national championship on the line, but once again Texas couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity, losing 10-9 against No. 7 Georgia.
Texas sent a record 18 players to the NFL from that team, including two-time All-American cornerback Johnnie Johnson.
“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,” Johnson said. “I will forever remember his words of encouragement to his young defense, ‘You can be young and good too!’ Coach Akers, Rest In Peace!”
Akers coached Purdue for four seasons following his departure from Texas in 1986 before retiring and returning to his ranch outside of Austin. He was subsequently enshrined in the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and the Texas Athletics Hall of Honor.
“It’s a very sad day with the news of the passing of one of our Longhorn Legends in Coach Akers,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said. “In the opportunities I had to spend time with Coach, he was always so warm and gracious. 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.”