Former Football head coach Fred Akers passes away
AUSTIN, Texas – Longtime Texas Football head coach Fred Akers (1977-86) passed away on Monday. Akers, who spent 19 years on the Longhorns staff in total, was 82 years old.
“It’s a very sad day with the news of the passing of one of our Longhorn Legends in Coach Akers,” 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.”
As head coach at Texas, Akers compiled an 86-31-2 record (60-19-1 SWC) in 10 seasons. His 86 wins rank third on the all-time UT victory list behind Darrell Royal and Mack Brown. Akers’ teams won Southwest Conference titles in 1977 and 1983. The Longhorns had three 10-win seasons and four top-10 finishes in the polls under his guidance. He coached Longhorn Legend Earl Campbell during Campbell’s run to the 1977 Heisman Trophy, two Lombardi Trophy winners in Kenneth Sims and Tony Degrate, an Outland Trophy winner in Brad Shearer and 48 All-SWC players.
A native of Blytheville, Ark., Akers played at the University of Arkansas and served as a graduate assistant a season after finishing his playing career in 1959. He was a product of the Texas high school coaching ranks, having served as an assistant at Port Arthur and as head coach at Edinburg (19-9-1) and Lubbock High (7-3) before Royal hired him to join the Texas staff as an assistant for the 1966 season.
While an assistant, he coached running backs, defensive backs and then was co-offensive coordinator before accepting the head coaching job at Wyoming in 1975. In two seasons, he took the Cowboys from 2-9 in his first year to an 8-4 record and a Fiesta Bowl appearance in 1976. He then returned as Texas’ head coach in 1977 to replace the retiring Royal.
With a new staff and a switch to the “I” formation to utilize the talents of Campbell, Akers burst on the scene in 1977. His first team went 11-0 through the regular season, claimed the Southwest Conference Championship and spent the final half of the year atop the national polls. Only a 38-10 Cotton Bowl loss to No. 5 Notre Dame denied Akers a National Championship in his first season.
“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,” Longhorn Legend and College Football Hall of Famer Johnnie 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!”
He followed the spectacular start in 1977 with nine consecutive winning seasons and nine bowl berths in a row. In 1978, the Longhorns were 9-3 and finished the year ranked ninth nationally. UT matched that mark in 1979 and earned a No. 12 national ranking. After dipping to 7-5 in 1980, Akers and the Longhorns returned in 1981 with a 10-1-1 record and climbed back into the nation’s top spot midway through that season. UT’s 14-12 upset of No. 3 Alabama in the Cotton Bowl vaulted Texas to a final No. 2 national ranking in 1981. In 1982, Texas was 9-3 and finished the year ranked 17th nationally.
Akers again had the Horns in the hunt for a national title in 1983. Texas opened the season ranked third nationally and posted the second perfect 11-0 regular season mark and the second SWC Championship of his tenure, and spent all but one week in the nation’s No. 2 spot. However, a 10-9 loss to No. 7 Georgia in the Cotton Bowl ended the title hopes for the Longhorns. A victory, coupled with a 31-30 loss by No. 1 Nebraska to Miami in the Orange Bowl, would have given Texas the national title, however UT finished the year ranked fifth.
Akers’ 1983 team produced a record 18 players who were taken in the NFL Draft the following spring. During the 1984 season, the Longhorns held the top spot in the national rankings before a 15-15 tie with No. 2 Oklahoma dropped them to No. 3.
Following his departure from Texas in 1986, Akers accepted the head coaching job and the challenge of rebuilding a struggling Purdue program in 1987. He spent four seasons there before retiring and returning to his ranch near Austin.
Akers was enshrined in the Texas Athletics Hall of Honor in 2015, and then both the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame in 2016.
Below is a retrospective article from longtime UT staffer Bill Little on Akers’ return to Wyoming when the Longhorns played the Cowboys in Laramie, Wyo., in 2009.
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
The high plains of southern Wyoming–nestled between the Snowy Range and the Laramie Range of the Rocky Mountains has a unique tie to Texas football history, and as the Longhorns head there Saturday to play the University of Wyoming, former Texas and Wyoming head coach Fred Akers will step on Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium one more time.
Thirty-three years ago, Akers left there in search of a dream.
Fred Akers tenure as head coach at Texas–10 seasons–equals that of D. X. Bible. In terms of longevity, it is third behind Darrell Royal (20 years) and Mack Brown (11 years). His teams were ranked No. 1 in the country at some point during three different seasons and he coached players who earned first team all-American honors 21 times. They posted two unbeaten regular seasons and won two Southwest Conference crowns.
In his window of time as the Longhorns head football coach from 1977 through 1986, time after time the magic of the ultimate goal of the gold ring seemed to somehow just slip away.
Akers retired from coaching years ago and has been involved in motivational speaking. He and his wife, Diane, now live at Horseshoe Bay, but Saturday, he re-joins the Longhorn football family as a guest when UT travels to Laramie, Wyo., where a pivotal piece of the montage of his life occurred.
This is his story.
In the annals of Texas football, only six men have come close to coaching the Longhorns as a head coach or an assistant for 20 years. The legendary Clyde Littlefield leads the crowd with 25 years, followed by David McWilliams with 21, Darrell Royal, Mike Campbell and Bully Gilstrap with 20 and Fred Akers with 19.
Akers had been a dashing young assistant coach, rising from the ranks of Texas high schools to join Darrell Royal’s staff in time for one of the most storied eras of Longhorn football history. His odyssey would take him to a head coaching job in Wyoming, and two years later, to the ultimate job of his dreams.
He was Freddie Akers then–this young man whom Darrell Royal had chosen from the ranks of Texas high school coaches to join his staff in 1966. For nine years, he had coached positions on both sides of the football as the Longhorns went on a 30-game winning streak, won six conference championships and two national titles.
He was one of those bright young guys in college coaching–an assistant who had been courted by some Southwest Conference schools–and as the 1974 season ended, he took the leap to the head job at Wyoming. The Cowboys struggled to a 2-9 season his first year, but the next season, Akers and his staff turned things around. The team went 8-4, won the WAC Title, and earned a surprising berth in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma.
His destiny was far from finished, however. Oh, he was a cowboy at heart–he and his wife had actually owned a ranch that doubled as a summer camp for kids east of Austin. He had the boots and the jeans, but he also could switch easily into a three-piece suit.
His youth (he was 39), his time at Texas, his quick success in Laramie and that new look captured the attention of the powers that be at The University of Texas. When Darrell Royal decided to retire as head football coach following that 1976 season, Fred Akers was the surprise choice to follow the legend–picked over Royal’s long-time assistant and personal favorite Mike Campbell.
With an energetic young staff and a stable full of really good football players, Akers’ first season was almost like a dream come true. Earl Campbell won the Heisman Trophy, Brad Shearer was the Outland Trophy winner, and Texas finished the regular season as Southwest Conference champions, unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the country.
It was the first of three times (1977, 1981, 1984) Texas under Akers would achieve a No. 1 national ranking during the regular season. Three other times (1979, 1980 and 1983) they made it as high as No. 2. Akers’ 1981 team earned its highest finish–No. 2 in the nation–after beating Alabama in the Cotton Bowl.
Despite a few critical losses, which denied Texas and Akers their ultimate goal, by the middle of 1984, he had the highest winning percentage in Texas history. His teams had won 80 percent of their games.
Then in the midst of a time of turmoil in the Southwest Conference where NCAA violations took down several programs, Texas began to disappear from the national college football landscape. Akers saw it slip away as his teams went 14-14 over their last 28 games, and his time as the Longhorns head coach ended after his injury plagued 1986 team finished 5-6.
It is always tough to follow a legend, and Fred Akers sought and accepted that challenge. His 10-year record of 86-31-2 produced the third most wins by a Texas coach–behind Royal and Mack Brown. He brought the Longhorns two conference championships, two unbeaten regular seasons, a Heisman Trophy winner and took them to nine bowl games.
His teams were respected for tough, solid football. He took the great talent Royal had left and added to it with exceptional recruiting classes in the early 1980s. His 1983 team sent a school-record 18 players into the NFL draft.
When the 2009 trip to Laramie was scheduled, Akers contacted Mack Brown about the possibility of riding along as the Longhorns headed to the high country.
When Wyoming officials got word that Akers was making the trip, they arranged for him to be on the field for the coin flip. He is, after all, the only man to ever serve as head coach at both schools, and in his time he brought league championships to both.
So Saturday, Akers will be back in Wyoming, where his head coaching career was launched. He’s a guest of Texas, whose Longhorns will be putting their No. 2 national ranking on the line in a 2:30 p.m. (CDT) game against the Cowboys.