While Akers slowly twisted in the wind last week, Royal had few encouraging words to say—either to the public or privately to his successor. Royal spent last weekend playing golf in Palm Springs. But Dodds couldn't run off, and he seemed to be suffering even more than Akers. "I wish the university didn't have to go through this," he said. "But we are, and we have to come out of it better."
Akers had told Dodds early in the week not to expect his resignation. Before that, Dodds had told Akers not to expect a vote of confidence. Asked how he felt about the silence from down the hall, Akers said, "Are you going to ask me if I still beat my wife?"
The day before the A & M game, Dodds and Akers flew to Houston for a Touchdown Club luncheon. Contrary to expectations, a third party wasn't needed to de-ice the cabin. Instead, on the flight back to Austin, Akers told Dodds a pointed story. It was about a Midland man who had lost every penny of a $160 million fortune during the recent oil bust. Broke, the man sauntered into a bar and was heard to tell someone, "You're not through till you quit." Soon he had amassed another $200 million. "It was as if," says Texas spokesman Bill Little, who was on the flight, "that was how Fred wanted his epitaph to read."
But that only begs the question of why Texas had ordered up a tombstone for Akers in the first place. Among the possible explanations:
?The Royal Shaft. That's what Akers got in the constant contrasting of his personality with that of his predecessor. Royal had an irresistible public manner and a stable of country witticisms to drop on the press. When Royal described someone as "so rich he could burn a wet elephant," he evoked an era when Texans measured their wealth in firewood and disposed of dead farm animals by burning them. Akers had the wry line in him—"Break out the wide-angle lens, boys, I'm getting ready to smile" is his all-timer—but he rarely let it out.
?The X's and O's. When Royal found himself with a surplus of talented runners one year, he asked an assistant named Emory Bellard to draw up a three-back offense. Voila, the wishbone. On the other hand, Akers' detractors were sure that an uninspiring personality and an uninspiring attack went hand in hand, ABOLISH NO-OFFENSE FOOTBALL read a few of the FIRE FRED bumper stickers around Austin. At times it did seem that Texas was content to set up Jeff (Emergency) Ward, its All-America kicker. "Everyone's entitled to an opinion," says Ward. "Criticize the play calling. Criticize what happens on the field. But don't question the man's character."
?The W's and L's. Akers had one 10-1-1 season and two 11-1 finishes in his first seven years in Austin. But, as the Monkees would say, that was then, this is now. Akers was 14-14 over his final 28 games, and he hadn't beaten Oklahoma or A & M in three years. As the final weeks of Texas's first losing season since 1956 wound down, Dodds ominously kept emphasizing that he wouldn't examine just the record, but the trend of the record as well.
?The A's and B's. The graduation rate of Akers' four-year players is 53%, virtually the same as that of the overall student body. Among male athletes at the university, however, the rate is 69%, and among female athletes it is 94%. What's worse, only 37.8% of all football signees have graduated since 1977, Akers' first year as coach. The regents, who do not see themselves as football-factory foremen, were concerned.
?The P's and Q's. "We're three dead-ball fouls from being undefeated in the conference," Akers said before the Horns lost their last two games, to Baylor and A & M. He pointed that out as if the fates had been cruel, and with regard to injuries—20 starters missed at least one game—they have been. But Texas had costly lapses of discipline. On Sept. 27, police arrested star running back Edwin Simmons when, according to the police, they found him naked in the backyard of a West Austin house. Simmons was released without charges being pressed. On Oct. 18, Arkansas scored the decisive touchdown after the Longhorns had 12 men on the field for a Razorback field goal attempt. Two weeks later, defensive back John Hagy twice drew crucial unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties for popping off to officials during a loss to Texas Tech.
?Bowled Over. No one cares that Akers went 11-1 in 1983, only that he lost 10-9 to Georgia in the Cotton Bowl with a team that would send 19 players to the pros. Nowadays, just appearing in Dallas on New Year's Day seems a remote goal. It's an axiom of college football at this level that you want to play in bowl games named after commodities, not concepts. Hence, going to the Freedom Bowl in 1984 wasn't particularly appreciated. Nor was losing there 55-17 to Iowa.