McWilliams was Royal's choice, but he was also the wrong choice. He was not a strong leader, nor could he recruit outside Texas. And while the Longhorns were suffering three losing seasons in five years, their graduation rate fell to 27%. Last January, McWilliams resigned.
Now there is a new power base at Texas, and out front is Royal, the man who promised he would be back. But behind him is Moffett, 53, his former player who went on to become a fabulously successful wildcatter. Moffett's New Orleans-based company, Freeport MacMoRan, is worth $1.7 billion. When it became clear midway through the 1991 season that McWilliams would have to go, Texas convened a committee to search for a new coach. A 50-member panel spent an entire day drafting a list of qualifications. But that was just for show. When John Mackovic, who had been al Illinois since '88, was selected, only four men were really involved in the decision: Moffett, Royal, Dodds and university president William Cunningham, who has since become chancellor of the Texas system. But the power lay with Moffett because, says one source close to the athletic department, "Jim Bob runs Cunningham." Mackovic was chosen because he possessed the characteristic that Moffett was looking for: a sound if cold business sense. That attitude is guiding the Longhorns in the '90s.
Royal likes to size people up on the basis of whether or not they would be good company on Willie Nelson's tour bus. Texas basketball coach Tom Penders, for instance, will hang out on the bus and drink a couple of beers with you. Of Mackovic, Royal told Penders, "He's not bus material." But that doesn't matter anymore, and it didn't keep Royal from endorsing Mackovic wholeheartedly.
Mackovic has done the seemingly impossible in his first season at Texas. He has broken with tradition without mortally offending anybody. He junked the time-honored Longhorn running attack in favor of a pro-style passing game. As Mackovic embraces the future, he also courts the past. He had Royal address the team before its Oct. 10 game with Oklahoma, a resounding 34-24 win.
Texas's attempts to blend tradition with the imperatives of the future are further embodied by three Longhorn freshmen: Shea Morenz, the top-rated quarterback in the nation as a Texas schoolboy, and a pair of wide receivers, Lovell Pinkney and Mike Adams. A year ago none of the three would have considered visiting Austin, much less signing with the Longhorns. Adams, a home-stater like Morenz, was the highest-rated receiver in the region but expected to go elsewhere to find a passing offense. Pinkney, a onetime crack dealer from Washington, D.C., reformed himself and became a high school All-America—and another key Longhorn acquisition. His presence demonstrates that Texas is finally able to attract talent from well outside the state.
About the only familiar ingredient in the offense is quarterback Peter Gardere, a senior from Houston. Bitter fans hold Gardere responsible for the losing seasons, despite his having engineered four straight victories over Oklahoma, an unprecedented feat for a quarterback on either side of that rivalry. He holds eight school career passing records, but his parents have been hounded so badly that they had to change their phone number. Gardere is booed even as he breaks the records of the revered Bobby Layne.
Sometimes success isn't enough if the Orangebloods decide they don't like you. Akers found that out. So has Gardere. So, perhaps, will Mackovic. On the other hand, he could be at the helm when tradition is scattered to the winds and the Longhorns join forces with their mortal enemy, Oklahoma, in a new confederation or forsake the Southwest Conference altogether for the Pac-10 or the Big Ten.
Gardere's only regret is that he has to graduate, whereupon he will join the legions of favorite sons and passionate alumni. He is a handsome and self-assured kid from a wealthy family, a kid whose father and grandfather both played football for the Longhorns. He understands Texas football the way some overbred children instinctively know which silverware to use. "Texas football is big business," he says. "And where there's business in Texas, there's politics."