Photo courtesy The Broyles Foundation
So much has already been said about the dynamic and transformative life that Coach Frank Broyles lived that I find it difficult to add much meaningful to the conversation that hasn’t already been said.
Anyone taking the time to read this column no doubt knows of his decades of service to the University of Arkansas first as head football coach (1958-1976), then as athletics director (1974-2007), and finally as a fund raiser and ambassador with the Razorback Foundation.
You likely know that before serving in the Navy during the last days of World War II, the Decatur, Ga., native became a three-sport letterman for Georgia Tech in football, baseball, and basketball, and was named the SEC Player of the Year for the 1944 football season.
You know that he is the only Razorback head football coach that won a national title, when the College Football Writers of America awarded his 1964-65 Hogs the Grantland Rice Trophy after they were the only major-college squad to complete an undefeated season following the bowls.
You may also know that his Razorbacks were oh so close to winning national titles in 1965 and 1969 and that the 22-game winning streak his Razorbacks went on from the final game of the 1963 season until the 1966 Cotton Bowl was the longest of that decade.
You probably know that at least 40 of his assistant coaches went on to become head coaches in collegiate for professional football. His coaching tree is a who’s who of the game, including Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer and Johnny Majors who went on to win national college championships, and Johnson, Switzer and Joe Gibbs won Super Bowls.
While Coach Broyles devoted his early professional life to football, he was a champion of all sports as the UA’s athletics director. He made basketball an emphasis, growing Arkansas’ mediocre program into a national power by hiring Eddie Sutton. With a second revenue-producing sport, funds flowed into other men and women’s sports, creating a proud tradition of an all-sports program that remains today.
During that same period, Coach Broyles worked for ABC with legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson to provide color commentary of the national football game of the week from 1977-1985.
You know that when Sutton got too big for his britches and “crawled” to Kentucky after the 1984-85 season, Coach Broyles made the landmark move of hiring Nolan Richardson away from Tulsa to take Arkansas’ basketball program to even greater heights. Richardson became the first African-American basketball coach to be hired by a major-college program in the South. The hire coupled with Richardson’s success quickly opened the door for more coaches of color to garner top coaching jobs in the South.
You know Coach Broyles was a man of vision, and perhaps his vision was clearest in 1990 when he worked to broker a deal that moved Arkansas, a charter member of the Southwest Conference, into the Southeastern Conference. Coach Broyles knew the gears of change were on the horizon, and he battled to make sure the Razorbacks would not be victims of that change.
A quarter of a century later, the SEC is the most lucrative and competitive conference in the nation, with each of its 14 members garnering $40 million a year from television contracts. Competing in the SEC is difficult, but being a member of the league gives Arkansas the funds to be ranked among the top 25 programs in terms of athletic budget each year, without taking money from the state to do its athletic business.
You may know that since his retirement as athletics director in 2007, Coach Broyles became a key figure in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease as a fundraiser, lobbyist, and author of “Coach Broyles’ Playbook for Alzheimer’s Caregivers: A Practical Tips Guide.”
It is a great guide that has been invaluable to my family as we care for my mother who suffers from the disease that robbed him of his first wife Barbara, and which ended his life on Monday.
Saturday at 2 p.m. a celebration of Coach Broyles’ life is being held at Bud Walton Arena, and the public is invited to attend. If you do decide to go, plan to get over to the UA early.
I wouldn’t hazard a guess at the size of the crowd, but it will be large, considering the number of lives Broyles touched.
While I did not know Coach Broyles other than on a professional basis, I interacted with him on countless occasions, first as a graduate assistant in Arkansas’ Sports Information Department for a year and then as a reporter and columnist.
Veteran broadcaster Mike Irwin of KNWA dotes on telling the story of a “dumb kid” who spoke out of turn at a Razorback football practice when Coach Broyles sought compliments among the gathered media for hiring former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer as color commentator for football radio broadcasts with Paul Eels and Rick Schaeffer in 1991.
Coach Broyles asked the group what they thought of Switzer’s first performance. No one spoke up, until the “dumb kid” said something to the effect that Switzer sounded distracted and uninterested. To which Coach Broyles responded, I thought he was insightful and articulate.
Yeah, I was that “dumb kid.”
When Coach Broyles moved on from the gathering, Irwin turned to me and said you better hope he doesn’t know who you are or you’re going to get fired. I’m pretty sure Irwin said, “fired” in his dead-on impression of Coach Broyles’ distinct Georgia drawl.
I guess Coach Broyles didn’t know who I was at the time or care because I held on to the G.A. role for the year. Irwin still teases me about that when I see him.
I did feel a bit vindicated later that year when Coach Broyles found out that Switzer spent the entire second half of a Razorback broadcast outside of the radio booth so he could watch the Oklahoma-Texas game on a TV located in the main press box of Razorback Stadium.
Coach Broyles kept himself in great shape, but he loved popcorn. He often dropped by the sports information office to see if anyone had popped any.
Coach Broyles is also the first person I ever witnessed substitute soft-serve ice cream for milk on Corn Flakes. It was often his choice for a snack in the old Wilson-Sharp Athletic Dining Hall.
Once staffers noticed his unique choice, it was much like the old “Seinfeld” episode where George began cutting his Snickers candy bar with a knife. Everyone had to try it. I have to say, it is tasty.
My most fun experience around Coach Broyles came in November 1991 when UA track and field trainer Scott Unruh and I picked him up at the Atlanta airport the day before the SEC Cross Country Championships. It was Arkansas’ first appearance in a championship event as a member of the SEC, and Coach Broyles was excited.
Arkansas cross country and track and field coach John McDonnell always rented a number of Lincoln Continentals to transport his athletes around for championship events. Coach Broyles sat in the back seat and regaled Unruh and me with tales about Bear Bryant for an hour or so during the drive to Athens.
It was a great honor and pleasure to hear candid stories about a legend in Bryant from a legend like Coach Broyles. While Coach Broyles’ friendship with Texas’ Darrell Royal was well known and often written about, he and Bryant also had a great professional relationship. They would often recommend their players to each other for graduate assistant coaching positions, and also pick each other’s brains about the advances in the game.
We stopped at a gas station and Coach Broyles offered to buy us a Coke. I grabbed a Pepsi, and Coach Broyles told me to get a Coke instead. Evidently he didn’t spend his money on Pepsi products?
McDonnell’s cross-country team blistered the course the following day, with a Razorback runner finishing one through five for a perfect score. Two other Hogs finished in the top nine, if I remember correctly.
Coach Broyles said, “I’ve never seen such a dominant display of pow-ah.”
He was proud that McDonnell’s Hogs won Arkansas that first SEC title in the program’s first opportunity.
The next year in 1992 I was working as a Razorback correspondent for several papers in eastern Arkansas but stationed in Fayetteville. It was Arkansas’ first year to play football in the SEC, although the other sports all started SEC play in 1991-92 season.
I thought it might be a good idea to preview the Tennessee game by looking back at Arkansas’ controversial 14-13 loss to the Vols in the 1971 Liberty Bowl.
By almost all accounts, the officials, led by line judge and UT grad Preston Watts, stole the game from the Hogs with a wild holding call on an extra point, and then crediting Tennessee with a recovered fumble when a Razorback player clearly came up with the ball and handed it to the ref. Arkansas assistant Joe Gibb was so livid, he chased the officials off the field and had to be pulled away while banging on the door of the officials dressing room.
I had already interviewed Harold Horton, who was an Arkansas assistant in 1971 and was head of football operations in 1992, and Louis Campbell, who made two interceptions in the game and was coaching the UA secondary at the time. I thought a couple of quotes from Coach Broyles would seal the story.
When I was allowed into his office, Coach Broyles was practicing his golf swing with what looked like a 7 iron. He told me to ask away, but when I questioned him about that game, his faced turned sour.
“I don’t talk about past losses,” Broyles said. “Come back and talk to me when we win.”
Going into the game, the Hogs were 1-4. Broyles had fired Jack Crowe after the infamous, 10-3 loss to The Citadel in the season opener. Joe Kines was the interim head coach, and future Hog coach Danny Ford was serving as a special assistant.
Tennessee was undefeated and ranked No. 4., despite the fact head coach Johnny Majors, who was an assistant from Broyles on the 1964 championship team, had not been coaching from the sidelines because of heart problems. The game was his first back in action.
The Razorbacks pulled off a stunning 25-24 upset with current UA tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. starting his first game at quarterback and kicker Todd Wright booting the game-winning, 41-yard field goal with 2 seconds on the clock.
The next week Coach Broyles was happy to talk to me about the victory, calling it a Razorback resurrection.
The Vols’ season went in the toilet after that loss and Majors announced his resignation prior to Tennessee’s final game with Memphis State. Phil Fulmer, who was a lineman for the Vols in 1971, got the job. Majors and many others felt like Fulmer played Cassius and Brutus in Majors’ forced resignation.
My favorite interview with Coach Broyles came in the summer of 2004 and concerned the 40th anniversary of his national championship team. He graciously spent two hours with me, going over every game and filling me in on at least two-dozen key Razorbacks who made an impact on that season. His mind was sharp and his recollection of names, events, and details was remarkable.
With all the wonderful and colorful information he provided, the story grew into a massive 12-week series that ran weekly throughout the course of the season in the Northwest Arkansas Times pre-game publication, Razorback Gameday.
Those are some fun memories, but what I’m most thankful about to Coach Broyles was for him making the Razorback program meaningful and important to this state and particularly to my family.
Some of the best times in my life have been spent watching Razorback athletics with members of my family. The Razorbacks bind my dad, my brother, and me together in a way that I really can’t explain. The Hogs are a very distinct part of who we are, and it’s something we have in common over time, space, and distance.
It was the success that Coach Broyles had in the final four games of his first season as the Razorbacks’ head coach that prompted my dad to first buy season tickets. That was a tough decision and commitment for my dad, who was barely making ends meet.
The Razorbacks became the family entertainment, and the family vacations for many years. But as a boy growing up in West Memphis, I dearly loved trips to Little Rock and Fayetteville. It meant fun and family time to me.
At 88, my dad no longer goes to the games, but he is just as interested in the Razorbacks today as when he first bought those tickets back in 1959. One of the highlights of his day is reading about the Hogs in the newspaper each morning.
Without all that Coach Broyles did in his various roles with the Razorbacks, my relationship with my dad and brother would still be strong, but not nearly as fun and interesting as it has been thanks to the Razorback program. I’m sure many others feel similarly.
Coach Broyles and all his hard work truly was the foundation of the Razorbacks. He gave the state of Arkansas a rallying point, a common cause, and much of the time something all Arkansans could be proud of. The Razorbacks are one of the ties that bind this state together.
Godspeed, Coach Broyles, and rest in peace.