Broyles goes out as last of his kind
Say goodbye to the Last Emperor.
A palace coup finally got Frank Broyles this weekend, ending what might be the most powerful run anyone has ever had in big-time college athletics. At the reported urging of boosters and trustees, the 82-year-old Arkansas athletic director announced his resignation Saturday, effective at the end of 2007 -- the 50th anniversary of his being named football coach in Fayetteville.
I'll assert that no collegiate athletic figure has controlled a campus and a state the way Frank Broyles has controlled Arkansas. And no college athletic figure ever will again.
Joe Paterno? Not the same length of time in charge -- and he's only a football coach. Bo Schembechler? Nope -- his tenure as AD was far shorter than Broyles'. Even Bear Bryant must take a back seat to Broyles in terms of longevity and scope.
Bryant, considered the ultimate Southern athletic icon, was the coach at Alabama for 25 years and died shortly after he retired. Broyles coached football for 20 years and has been the boss of a sprawling, striving athletic department for 33 (there was a three-year overlap when he was coach and AD). He was beloved as a coach, and also had the business acumen to oversee a multi-sport corporation in times of record prosperity.
Beyond winning a slice of the 1964 national title and coaching a game against Texas in 1969 that was so important the president of the United States flew in to attend, there was an entire second chapter as head Hog.
Broyles launched, altered and/or terminated dozens of coaching careers. He was a key player in the most significant conference shakeup in college history, helped hasten the demise of the Southwest Conference and the further empowerment of the Southeastern Conference by moving Arkansas from the former to the latter. He helped make the SEC more than just a one-team basketball league, as the Razorbacks became the first school from that league not named Kentucky to win a national title. He saw Arkansas develop into a track and field dynasty. He rounded up the money to make state-of-the-art facilities sprout like mushrooms all over campus. And he generally loomed, larger than life, over all things Razorback.
College football in the South was a lily-white enterprise when he took over as head coach of the Razorbacks in late 1957. Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus' resistance to federally mandated integration of Little Rock public schools had just occurred that fall, prior to Broyles taking over, and it would be many years thereafter before the Razorbacks had an African-American football player. Yet Broyles would ultimately make a ground-breaking diversity hire: naming Nolan Richardson his basketball coach in the mid-1980s, and seeing it pay off with a national championship in 1994.
In his spare time Broyles was ABC's lead college football analyst, his buttery Southern accent teaming with Keith Jackson on the national Game of the Week. He captained a $1 billion capital campaign for the university at large. And he has the national award for the top college football assistant coach named in his honor.
He knew Bill Clinton personally. He hired and fired Richardson. Eddie Sutton and Lou Holtz called him boss. And he went through nine layers of melodrama with Houston Nutt.
It was his relationship with Nutt and the Arkansas football players that finally drove Broyles off his throne, if you believe the talk. This all started with the fracturing of the Arkansas program in the midst of a breakthrough 10-4 season.
In the end, it appears that part of Broyles' undoing was what made him a one-man dynasty: his craving for control, his zest for hands-on leadership.
The Hogs' 10-win season ended in chaos: they lost their last three games, their first-year offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn, and two star recruits -- quarterback Mitch Mustain and receiver Damian Williams, both of whom played for Malzahn at nearby Springdale High School. There was a stunning amount of acrimony at a program having such a successful season -- and Broyles wound up in the middle of it.
In December, parents of three of the Springdale players met with Broyles to discuss the state of the football program. The fact that Broyles took the meeting was blow to Nutt's authority.
The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported that Broyles told the parents Nutt was in charge of the football program -- but Broyles has a reputation for meddling, and this meeting only reinforced the perception that he's the backseat coach of the program he built to prominence.
Nutt still wound up getting a recent contract extension -- but latent dissatisfaction with Broyles bubbled to the surface amid the strife. For obvious reasons, many in Hog Nation believed Broyles had stayed beyond his time -- at 82 he was trying to do a job that can wear down a man half his age.
But as has been made abundantly clear on college campuses so many times, it's hard to herd an icon out the door before he's ready. Finally, somebody -- or some bodies -- in Arkansas got Broyles to agree: it's time.
Going out with a modicum of grace and an emphasis on good feelings seems important here, given the committed relationship between Arkansas and Broyles for half a century. He might have been forced out, but Frank Broyles is too important to the school and the state to be allowed to walk away angry.
In fact, if Arkansas were to construct its own 21st century Mount Rushmore, you could argue that the faces would be Clinton, Walton, Tyson and Broyles. He was that big, for that long.
He was the Last Emperor in college athletics.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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