Football is, of course, king in major college athletics. It literally totes the note.
It creates most of the interest, revenue, expense, and profit. Like every big dog, it eats first.
It’s the way it is and has always been.
However, what truly made Frank Broyles’ vision for the University of Arkansas’ athletics program when he took over as athletics directer in 1974 distinct was his drive to improve Arkansas’ athletics program across the board.
Of course, it started with men’s basketball with his hire of Eddie Sutton, and that hire coincided with the growth of college basketball in the late 1970s and 1980s from being an afterthought to the NCAA Basketball Men’s Tournament developing into a national rite of spring like The Masters and Major League Baseball’s opening day.
For some ADs that would have been enough; however, Broyles, a three-sport letterman at Georgia Tech, had similar visions for baseball and to a degree cross country and track and field.
Baseball is now a revenue sport at Arkansas. Few programs around the nation can say that about their baseball programs. While cross country and track and field aren’t and won’t be a revenue sport at the UA or any other university for a variety of reasons, no athletic programs have brought as much glory to the University of Arkansas as cross country and track and field.
The 42 men’s national titles speak volumes, and the only two national titles won by Razorbacks women’s teams were by Lance Harter’s in indoor and outdoor track and field programs.
While it was Broyles’ vision for an all-sports program of national caliber, it never would have come to fruition without the talents of John McDonnell and Norm DeBriyn whose coaching abilities and tireless drives for excellence laid the foundation for what are arguably Arkansas’ two most successful sports programs during the last 30 years.
While DeBriyn and McDonnell are retired, Dave Van Horn in baseball and Chris Bucknam in cross country, track and field continue to proudly carry the torch for those programs with nationally competitive teams year after year. The same can be said for Harter’s women’s track program with its two national titles and bevy of top-10 national finishes.
McDonnell and DeBriyn will both give credit to their athletes for the success they had at Arkansas, and that is deserved. However, McDonnell and DeBriyn were more than just coaches during their time at Arkansas.
The truth is like most every employee of Broyles at the UA, both wore more hats than one. Not only did they have to coach the team, but for the longest they also had to be their sport’s chief fundraiser in the days before the Razorback Foundation.
Even after its formation, DeBriyn and McDonnell’s own special blend of integrity, intensity, humility, and coaching excellence made them their program’s best advocate when seeking donations.
DeBriyn forged a special relationship with the Willard and Pat Walker family that continues to payoff for the Razorback baseball program. Likewise, McDonnell found a friend and benefactor in the late Randal Tyson and the rest of the Tyson family that allows the Razorbacks and Fayetteville to be the a major player in college track and field.
In recent weeks, Arkansas’ Board of Trustees announced plans to move forward with the renovation and expansion of the Randal Tyson Indoor Track Center and the construction of the a performance center at John McDonnell Field as well as the construction of a baseball performance center near Charlie Baum Stadium.
Without the generosity of the Walker and Tyson families, neither project would have come together as easily and possibly not at all.
All fans of Razorback track and field and baseball programs owe a tip of the cap to the Walker and Tyson families for their contributions to the success and future of each of the programs and a thank you to DeBriyn and McDonnell for forging relationships that not only helped their programs win but also ensured that the baseball and track and field programs don’t get lost in the shuffle at the UA.