The year was 1976, America was celebrating it’s Bicentennial, Bob Stoops was playing high school football in Ohio, Lincoln Riley was seven years away from being born, and Oklahoma was involved in an alleged spygate scandal with the University of Texas. Ironically, the 2007 Patriots-Jets scandal involved a former coach (Eric Mangini) accusing his former team of wrongdoing, just like Darrell Royal did in 1976 to the Oklahoma Sooners before the ‘76 Red River Shootout.
Royal was born and raised in Hollis, Oklahoma and was an All-American for legendary coach Bud Wilkinson in the late 1940’s. After working his way up through the coaching ranks, Royal took over as the head coach for the rival Longhorns in 1957. Royal beat his former coach in his second season and spearheaded a Texas football dynasty in 1960s and early 1970s, which included three national titles. Royal also presided over a turning point in the rivalry between Oklahoma and Texas. The Longhorns dominated the Sooners in the 1960’s after being dominated by Oklahoma in the 40’s and 50’s. When Coach Barry Switzer arrived as offensive coordinator, the Sooners flipped the script once again, which didn’t sit well with Coach Royal.
The origin of the scandal actually dates back to 1972, when the staff of Oklahoma allegedly (later confirmed by Switzer) had spies at Texas practices. This supposedly took place by way of a friend of the Oklahoma defensive coordinator at the time, Larry Lacewell. Lacewell had his friend Lonnie Williams pose as a construction worker the week before the annual game and relayed everything he saw in practice back to the Oklahoma coaching staff. This led to the Sooners being prepared for the “quick kick” where Texas planned to pull off a surprise punt on third down. Luckily for the Sooners, they knew exactly when the play was coming, blocked the punt, and returned it for a touchdown. What followed was not only a 27-0 Oklahoma rout, but a rousing suspicion on the part of Royal and the rest of the Texas coaching staff.
Royal only had to wait three years for his suspicions to be confirmed when he heard from an assistant that Lonnie Williams boasted about his surveillance to a Texas booster after a few cocktails in December of 1975. This gave Royal the ammo he needed to fire away at Switzer before the 1976 game. He alleged that Switzer and the Oklahoma staff continuously spied on Texas during practices. He even went as far as challenging Switzer and his coordinators to a lie-detector test, offering $1,000 to the charity of their choice if they passed the test. Switzer and his staff refused the test, and that year’s game fittingly ended in an 6-6 tie. Royal never forgot about the spying controversy and remained hostile to Switzer and the Oklahoma program. He retired after that season and later said, “I wanted that game more than any I competed or coached in.”
As we look forward to OU-Texas 2018, we can definitely say that although the rivalry remains, the Riley-Herman relationship is much different than the Switzer-Royal relationship back in the day.