Fred Akers, who led the Texas Longhorns to the brink of two national championships and coached Tylerite Earl Campbell during his Heisman Trophy winning season, passed away on Monday, his daughter Stacey posted on social media.
He was 82.
Akers, who succeeded legendary coach Darrell Royal at Texas, died of complications from dementia on Monday, his wife, Diane, said. He was surrounded by his family at their home at Horseshoe Bay, family members said.
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 Royal (167) and Mack Brown (158).
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 Campbell during his 1977 Heisman Trophy winning season, two Lombardi Trophy winners in Kenneth Sims and Tony Degrate, an Outland Trophy winner in Brad Shearer and 48 All-SWC players.
He was fired after the 1986 season following a 5-6 record, the Longhorns' first losing season in 30 years.
Akers was long cast as an outsider by some within the Texas program because he wasn’t anointed by Royal to be his successor. Royal favored defensive coordinator Mike Campbell, but a search committee led by former Gov. Allen Shivers picked Akers and the divide split Texas fans for years.
Where Royal had a folksy personality that produced enough witty one-liners to fill books, Akers was strictly buttoned-down and all business. He insisted on wearing a jacket and tie for office interviews, and brought in West Coast sports psychologists to speak to his team. He even produced three videos discussing “New Age Leadership.”
“He was always buttoned up, put together. It was about respect. He respected his position and how he represented the state, the university, the people and the players," daughter Lesli Akers said.
After Texas, Akers coach at Purdue for four seasons before retiring.
His overall record was 108-75-3 in 16 seasons. He was head coach at Wyoming for two seasons.
A native of Blytheville, Arkansas, Akers played at the University of Arkansas where he was a star halfback, punter and kicker. He served as a graduate assistant for the Razorbacks, 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. He became one of the youngest high school football head coaches in Texas when he took a job in Edinburg at age 24.
While an assistant in Austin, 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 in the Cotton Bowl denied Akers a national championship in his first season.
He followed 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 last-minute 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.
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.
“He loved his players. He loved the University of Texas, and the University of Arkansas where he played,” Lesli Akers said. “He loved them to the end.”
Jim Vertuno of the Associated Press contributed to this story.