The Top Ten Controversies in the History of UT football, as voted on by Inside Texas subscribers:
1. Major Applewhite vs. Chris Simms
2. Darrell Royal’s successor: Fred Akers or Mike Campbell?
3. Fred Akers’ decision-making
4. The Barry Switzer spying scandal
5. The tenure of John Mackovic
6. Greg Davis’ play-calling
7. Deloss Dodds: Great AD or all about the money?
8. No black players until 1968
9. Meat on the Hoof
10. 1995 Sugar Bowl, "Ron McKelvey" playing past his eligibility
It’s the Top Ten Controversies, the stories, coaches, players and decisions that galvanize the Burnt Orange nation.
Voted No. 1 on the list is the benching of Major Applewhite, the career passing leader in the history of Texas football, for Chris Simms. No controversy was more divisive amongst Texas fans. In the end, Simms was sent back to the bench in favor of Applewhite in the 2001 Big 12 Championship game after Simms turned the ball over four times. Applewhite went on to lead Texas to one of the top comebacks in school history, a 47-43 win over Washington in the 2001 Holiday Bowl.
One man finds himself in both the second and third spots: Fred Akers. The second-ranked controversy is the Akers hire. After the retirement of the legendary Darrell Royal, Texas needed a successor. The hiring of Fred Akers over long-time assistant Mike Campbell was a source of controversy among Texas fans. Following Akers arrival is his decision-making while he was the head coach at Texas. Did he run an effective offense? Was he too conservative? Did he properly utilize Eric Metcalf? These questions and more continued to reverberate from Akers’ arrival to his departure.
At No. 4 is the 1976 Red River Shootout, also known as the “Spy Game.” Royal accused Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer of sending a spy to closed Texas practices at Memorial Stadium. According to reports, OU booster Lonnie Williams, at the urging of Sooner assistant Larry Lacewell, went to Longhorn practice posing as a painter. Royal's suspicion was originally raised in '72, when during the game Oklahoma players were heard calling out plays, most famously a quick kick that was blocked, a play Royal hadn’t run in four years. It may not have mattered, though, as Texas lost the '72 game 27-0, while the '76 game ended in a bitter 6-6 tie after a late Texas fumble set up the Sooners' tying score. Both Switzer and Lacewell later admitted to the spying.
Next up is the tenure of controversial coach John Mackovic. Mackovic outraged alumni by refusing to involve former players and coaches in the program and went through a rocky ride as the Longhorns head coach. After a 4-7 season, Mackovic was replaced by current Texas head coach Mack Brown, who reversed many of his predecessor’s controversial policies.
A current coach’s trials and tribulations are at No. 5 on the list: Greg Davis. Others in the Top Ten may have been bigger controversies historically, but no current argument grips the Texas fan base like the play-calling of Davis. Curious play calls in many situations, but statistical domination and a Broyals Award (nation’s top assistant) to boot. Would Texas be better without Davis? How responsible is he for Vince Young’s performance? These questions are still debated today and likely will be as long as Davis is at Texas.
If you’ve been to Royal-Memorial Stadium in recent years, two things will probably stand out to you: 1. It’s bigger and 2. There are a lot of advertisements. Deloss Dodds runs one of the most successful programs in the history of collegiate sports and also one of the most profitable. Is Texas committed to a tough schedule in football? What matters most to program? These questions are typically directed to Dodds, the man at the top and he finds himself at No. 7 on the list.
At No. 8 is Texas’ lagging behind the rest of the nation in the admittance of African American athletes into football. Roosevelt Leaks’ dominating runs put a stamp on the black athlete’s place on field at Texas, but Chairman of the Board of Regents Frank C. Erwin continued to fight to keep African-Americans out of athletic programs (ironic the basketball arena’s named after him, no?).
Gary Shaw’s 1976 book, Meat on the Hoof: The Hidden World of Texas Football, sold more the 350,000 copies and is No. 9 on the list. The book ripped into Longhorn football for the environment created by the Texas coaching staff. The former Texas football player recounted hazing rituals, assured passing grades for starters, lack of medical attention to players lower on the depth chart and more, including characterization of Royal as an “unfeeling tyrant.” Regardless of whether or not all of the accusations were true, the book tarnished a football program that had never before been so publicly criticized.
If all of this was occurring, why was it tolerated? As Shaw put it:
"To attack football is to attack the major exhibit of the masculine view of the world; it would be much more strongly resisted than an attack on the church or most other American institutions." --Gary Shaw, Meat on the Hoof
Finally, there’s the very unusual story of Ron McKelvey and the 1995 Sugar Bowl. Texas went into the game with high hopes, but lost to Virginia Tech 28-10. However, the result of the game was not the most grabbing headline. It was discovered that Texas senior football player Ron McKelvey…was not Texas senior football player Ron McKelvey. His real name was Ron Weaver, a 30-year-old man from California who had enrolled at Texas as 23-year-old Ron McKelvey and who had obviously exhausted his eligibility years before. Later, Weaver was investigated by the FBI for gambling and several players on team who had placed bets with Weaver were suspended.
Just off the list: 1991 Cotton Bowl, Stan Thomas taunting Miami players and the subsequent loss
A few of the notable controversies also receiving votes:
Going 1-10 against Texas A&M from 1984-1994
Losing streaks against Oklahoma
The firing of Abe Lemons
Entry into the 2005 Rose Bowl over Cal
The loss to Rice under John Mackovic
Current out-of-conference scheduling
Selvin Young starting in 2006
Officiating in Grant Teaff’s retirement game
Another notable one that received mention was the Longhorns' denial from the 1942 Rose Bowl. At the time, the Rose Bowl didn't have a deal with the Big 10 and pitted the Pac 10 winner against an at large. The Oregon State Beavers had already wrapped up the Pac 10 and awaited their at large opponent. This was when Bowl bids were awarded before the end of the season and the Longhorns had been all but assured by the Rose Bowl Committee that they would be headed to Pasadena for their first ever Rose Bowl. The problem was Oregon State had only a single loss in conference play and it was to Oregon. Texas had Oregon coming up on the schedule as their final regular season game. The Rose Bowl Committee suddenly became fearful that if Texas lost to the Ducks, then the Rose Bowl would be between two teams that had lost to Oregon and Oregon would not be in the game. Because of this, the Rose Bowl awarded to at large bid to Duke instead. The Horns, already denied a Rose Bowl bid, went out and beat the Oregon Ducks 71-7 at Memorial Stadium.
As a side note, less than 24 hours later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, which is why the 1942 Rose Bowl was also the only one not played in Pasadena. Duke hosted the game on the East Coast to prevent the large sporting event from becoming the target of an attack.
Perhaps the Longhorn's controversial entry into the 2005 Rose Bowl over Cal was Karma, 64 years in the making.
(Note: All of the controversies were brought up and voted on by subscribers. A few suggestions were offered, but individual entries were from IT Members and not voted on from a list.)
In an upcoming issue of Inside Texas magazine, we're going to list the Top 10 greatest of everything Texas football. It will be 40 lists for the 40 acres. Inside Texas subscribers voted on the Top 10 in 10 of the categories. The subscriber vote will be printed alongside our staff selections in Inside Texas Magazine.
Thanks to everyone who voted!
NEXT UP: Comebacks