Coach Broyles

Frank Broyles wasn’t born and raised in Arkansas.

He hailed from Decatur, Ga., and his rich Southern accent was never replaced by an Arkansas twang. Yet he was one of us. Indeed, he was the best of us.

He moved to Fayetteville following just one season as the head coach at the University of Missouri.

Orville Henry wrote in the Arkansas Gazette the day after Broyles’ Dec. 7, 1957, hiring at the University of Arkansas: “Frank Broyles is the fastest walking, thinking, talking Southern boy I’ve ever run across, in or out of football. He charms the uninitiated with his complete candor and confidence and the rippling softness of his Dixie accent. And he possesses the pigskin technicians with the inside-outside mastery of his subject matter, which is basic football in general and the T formation attack in the specific. As of this hour, he embodies every answer to John Barnhill’s prayer.”

Barnhill, the Arkansas athletic director at the time, told Henry: “Frank is the only man from the outside who could come in and pull us all together toward what we’re after. We’ve lost no ground in the last three years, and we’re in good shape. Within a month I believe we’ll be a lot better than we were.”

Barnhill added: “Broyles convinced me that he wants to come to Arkansas and stay.”

Stay he did, for the next six decades.

National news had been dominated in that fall of 1957 by the Little Rock Central High School desegregation crisis. That didn’t deter Broyles, who always would refer to the Arkansas coaching position as his dream job.

The desegregation crisis made Arkansas the subject of derision in other parts of the country. Arkansans had both a strong pride in the place they called home and a glaring inferiority complex.

Though Broyles wasn’t from here, he understood us.

He pledged his allegiance to Arkansas and never left.

It didn’t take Broyles long to build a football powerhouse. John Barnhill’s instincts had been correct.

As least among college football fans, Gov. Orval Faubus wasn’t the only well-known personality in Arkansas. We had Broyles, his shirttail flapping as he paced the sidelines on those glorious fall afternoons.

College Football News once ranked the top college football programs for the 1960s. The ranking was based on Associated Press polls. Alabama (coached by a native Arkansan, Paul “Bear” Bryant) was first in that decade. Arkansas and Texas were tied for second.

I was born in September 1959. Frank Broyles was the only Razorback football coach I knew until high school. Arkansas won several versions of the national championship in 1964, but that was the year my 9-year-old brother was killed in an accident. So the few memories I have of that year are of family tragedy, not college football.

The next year was different. I clearly remember that at the end of the 1965 season, as the Razorback winning streak reached 22 games, my parents announced that they would take my older sister and me to Dallas to see Arkansas tangle with LSU in the Cotton Bowl.

I remember the trip down U.S. Highway 67 from our Arkadelphia home to Dallas. I remember the stop at The Alps restaurant in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, for lunch. I remember staying in downtown Dallas at the Baker Hotel.

And I remember wanting to see Frank Broyles in person, which I finally did.

I got into trouble with my father on that trip when I refused to shake the hand of the LSU head coach, Charlie McClendon. McClendon was from south Arkansas (Lewisville to be exact) and knew my father. McClendon’s brother, Bill, and my dad hunted quail together.

But to a 6-year-old, he was the enemy because he coached the hated purple-and-gold Tigers.

LSU upset Arkansas on Jan. 1, 1966, ending the 22-game winning streak. I cried in the cab on the way from Fair Park back to the Baker Hotel.

With victory having proved elusive, the highlight of the trip for me was having seen Broyles at the hotel.

You could tell by looking at him that he had once been a great athlete. He was a star quarterback at Georgia Tech, where he played for Bobby Dodd and led the Yellowjackets to three bowl games. He started his coaching career as an assistant at Baylor in 1947, but Dodd soon brought him back to Atlanta where Broyles served as the head coach’s right-hand man for a decade. Many Southern football fans felt that Broyles would hang around until Dodd retired and then become the Georgia Tech head coach.

Broyles was restless, however. He wanted to lead his own program and try out his own ideas. He took the Missouri job.

Arkansas, though, was the place where he really saw potential. His vision, in fact, went beyond the football field. He once told me that the smartest move the university made in his early years there was when it offered broadcasts of Razorback games free to any radio station in the state that wanted them. Prior to that, a number of people in west Arkansas followed Oklahoma football, a number of people in south Arkansas followed LSU football and a number of people in east Arkansas followed Ole Miss football. Having one of the largest radio networks in the country united the state.

Broyles continued to make us proud on the national stage after retiring from coaching following the 1975 season. Broyles and play-by-play man Keith Jackson of ABC Sports became the best college football crew on television.

Broyles also proved to be as savvy as an athletic director as he had been as a football coach, raising millions of dollars to improve athletic facilities for multiple sports and moving Arkansas from the Southwest Conference to the Southeastern Conference in the early 1990s.

No wonder the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette named him Arkansas’ most influential sports figure of the 20th century.

No wonder David Bazzel created the Broyles Award to honor the top college assistant coach in the country. Think of those who played and/or coached under Broyles — Barry Switzer, Jimmy Johnson, Joe Gibbs, Johnny Majors and on and on.

Still, Broyles’ most important accomplishment was that he made us proud to be from Arkansas at a time when we most needed it.

Finally Winthrop Rockefeller became governor in January 1967 after 12 years of Faubus.

Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell hit it big on the national stage.

And Frank Broyles’ Razorbacks kept winning football games — lots of them.

Even though the end result was an excruciating 15-14 loss to the hated Longhorns, we were proud that what was known as the Game of the Century was played on Arkansas soil in 1969. I was 10 years old and still recall that gray December afternoon.

As a state at that time, we were just more than decade removed from the embarrassment of 1957. Arkansas also had lost the highest percentage of population of any state from 1940-60.

Frank Broyles helped us to believe in ourselves again.

I didn’t fully understand that at age 10.

I do now.

He was a giant in his field. Yes, he was born in Georgia. But he became one of us and was never ashamed to be known as an Arkansan.

Thank you, Coach Broyles. You were the right man at the right time for Arkansas.

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