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Tramel: Late Texas football coach Fred Akers was a thorn in OU's flesh

Fred Akers died Monday at the age of 82, and I don’t really know how the University of Texas fan base remembers their 10-year head coach.

But I know how OU fans remember Akers. A thorn in the flesh.

Barry Switzer had great Sooner teams. In the 10 years that Akers coached the Longhorns, 1977-87, in the Southwest Conference, OU won seven Big Eight titles and a national championship. OU won the national title in 1985, played for national titles in 1977 and 1984, was even better in 1986 and had maybe Switzer’s best team in 1978.

Yet in those 10 years, Akers went 5-4-1 vs. Switzer. Only OU’s 41-7 rout of Wyoming in the 1976 Fiesta Bowl kept Akers from having a winning record against his old college teammate. Switzer dominated Tom Osborne 12-5, and Osborne’s Cornhuskers were great most of those years.

But OU-Texas games were dogfights that most seasons left both squads more spent than anything.

Akers, born and raised in Blytheville, Arkansas, played for Frank Broyles with the Arkansas Razorbacks in 1958-59, when Switzer was his teammate. Then he began a coaching career that included Texas high school head-coaching stops at Edinburg and Lubbock, before Darrell Royal hired Akers in 1966.

Akers eventually was hired by Wyoming. His first Cowboys team went 2-9, but in 1976, Wyoming went 10-1, broke Arizona State’s strangehold on the Western Athletic Conference and made the Fiesta Bowl.

OU routed the Cowboys in that Fiesta, but Texas still came calling when Royal retired, and Akers was great in Austin.

His Longhorns played for national championships in 1977 and 1983; his first seven Texas teams went a combined 66-13-1. Akers beat Switzer in four of their first five OU-Texas games, slogging games that were tough-man contests. Texas won 13-6 in 1977, 16-7 in 1979, 20-13 in 1980, 34-14 in 1981 and 28-16 in 1983. 

At that point, Akers was as feared in Norman as Switzer was in Lincoln.

But the Texas program dipped. The Longhorns went 7-4-1, 8-4 and 5-6 from 1984-86, and Akers was fired. He became the coach at Purdue, went 12-31-1 in four years and was fired again.

That began an odyssey of Texas firing coaches despite success against the Sooners. David McWilliams was 3-2 vs. OU and fired. John Mackovic was 3-2-1 vs. OU and fired. Mack Brown was 7-9 vs. OU and fired.

McWilliams? OK. Mackovic? Understandable. But Brown was and is an excellent coach, as North Carolina can testify. And so was Fred Akers, a thorn in the Sooners’ flesh.

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Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›