Oct. 14, 2011: Frank Broyles

Arkansans know him as the former head football coach and athletic director at the University of Arkansas.

Frank Broyles

Frank Broyles, Class of 1967

College football coaches across the country know him as the namesake of the Broyles Award, which is presented annually to the nation’s top college football assistant.

Football fans of a certain age might best remember him as the primary color commentator for ABC Sports coverage of college football from the late 1970s until 1985. For almost a decade, the voices of Georgia natives Keith Jackson and Frank Broyles were synonymous with college football season for millions of Americans.

However he’s known, Frank Broyles always will be remembered as an Arkansas sports legend. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette named him the 20th century’s most influential figure in athletics in Arkansas.

He already was achieving legendary status by 1967 when he was part of one of the smallest Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame induction classes ever. Broyles and just two other men – Ash Flat native and former professional pitcher Elwin “Preacher” Roe and Hot Springs native and former world welterweight boxing champion Thomas Freeman – were inducted into the Hall of Fame that year.

Although it has been almost four years since Broyles retired as the athletic director at the state’s flagship university, he’s still a regular presence on campus through his work with the Razorback Foundation. The Broyles name is everywhere. The current athletic director, Jeff Long, has his office in the Broyles Athletic Center. Whenever he looks out his window, he sees Frank Broyles Field at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Broyles remains an energetic, charismatic personality at age 86. In his final weeks as athletic director in late 2007, he was recognized during a halftime ceremony at a Razorback football game. The field was named in his honor that day. Jackson, his former ABC broadcast partner, was the master of ceremonies. More than 200 of Broyles’ former players joined him on the field as highlights from his career played on the video board.

Rest assured there were plenty of highlights to show.

Broyles was born the day after Christmas in 1924, and it didn’t take long for the folks in Decatur, Ga., to realize he was an athletic sensation. He headed to Atlanta for college at Georgia Tech and was a third team All-Southeastern Conference performer in 1943. He was a first team all-conference selection the following season and was named the SEC Player of the Year in 1944 by the Atlanta Touchdown Club.

Broyles also was a first team All-American in 1944 on the Football Digest team and was named a second team All-American by Look magazine and the Football Writers Association of America.

Broyles set the Orange Bowl record for most passing yards with 304 yards on Jan. 1, 1945, as Georgia Tech lost to Tulsa, 26-12. He held that record until it was broken by Michigan quarterback Tom Brady in 2000. Brady threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns in an overtime victory over Alabama.

Bobby Dodd had served as an assistant coach at Georgia Tech under Bill Alexander since 1931. When Alexander retired, Dodd became the third head coach in Georgia Tech history in 1945. Broyles was serving in the military in 1945 but returned to Georgia Tech for the 1946 season, a decision for which Dodd was forever grateful. That’s because the talented quarterback from Decatur, Ga., led the Yellow Jackets to a 9-2 record and a ranking of No. 11 in the season’s final Associated Press poll.

Broyles’ talents weren’t limited to football. He lettered in three sports at Georgia Tech – football, basketball and baseball.

Broyles was drafted by the Chicago Bears following the 1946 season but decided to go into coaching. He first served on Bob Woodruff’s staff at Baylor. After three years at Baylor, Broyles followed Woodruff to Florida in 1950. Broyles returned to Georgia Tech in 1951 at Dodd’s behest to serve as offensive coordinator and stayed until 1957 when he was offered the job as head coach at Missouri. Broyles’ Missouri team went 5-4-1.

His stay in Missouri was a short one. Arkansas athletic director John Barnhill contacted him, and Broyles believed his chances of building a national powerhouse at Arkansas would be greater than at Missouri.

Broyles often would tell the story that his response to Barnhill’s call was “what took you so long?”

The Razorbacks had completed the 1957 season. For those who were alive then – and for students of Arkansas history – the year 1957 still means just one thing. The desegregation crisis at Little Rock Central was the first major test of the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v Board of Education. For weeks, the fledgling but growing phenomenon known as television network news had focused on the events in Little Rock.

For many Americans, the perception of Arkansas was that of a place filled with screaming racists. Arkansans were keenly aware of that negative national image. The phrase “poor but proud” has been overused by those who study Arkansas history and culture. Arkansans do, however, mix a deep pride with occasional feelings of inferiority, a combination that makes them yearn for those in other states to pay attention to the good things that happen.

To understand what Frank Broyles meant to Arkansas, one first must understand the profound effect the events of 1957 had on how Arkansans viewed themselves. Once you understand that, you understand that Broyles’ impact goes far beyond sports.

During the 1960s, one of the best things to happen in the minds of Arkansans was the fact that Broyles was fielding winning Razorback football teams. His first team in 1958 went 4-6, but the Razorbacks were 9-2 by the fall of 1959, winning a share of the Southwest Conference championship and posting a Gator Bowl victory. The next three seasons would see records of 8-3, 8-3 and 9-2 with two Southwest Conference titles, one appearance in the Cotton Bowl and two Sugar Bowl appearances.

After slipping to 5-5 in 1963, Arkansas went 11-0 in 1964, capturing several versions of the national championship after defeating Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl. The 1965 team was 10-0 going into the Cotton Bowl, where the Razorbacks were upset by LSU.

The famed editorial cartoonist George Fisher once produced a parody of the Christ of the Ozarks statue in Eureka Springs. In the Fisher cartoon, the statue was transformed into Frank of the Ozarks, the king of all he surveyed. In less than a decade as head coach, Broyles indeed had become an Arkansas icon.

By the time Broyles retired as head football coach at the conclusion of the 1976 season, his Arkansas teams had compiled records of 144-58-5 overall and 91-35-5 in the Southwest Conference. Along with the 1964 national championship, his teams either won the Southwest Conference championship outright or captured a share of the title in 1959, ’60, ’61, 64, 65, ’68 and ’75.

Broyles was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and was among the original inductees into the University of Arkansas’ Sports Hall of Honor. He also was inducted into the hall of fame for the Orange Bowl, the Gator Bowl, the Cotton Bowl and Georgia Tech.

Broyles had become Arkansas’ men’s athletic director in 1974 and devoted his time to those duties after retiring from coaching. He focused on giving all the university’s teams the type of facilities they needed to compete. A survey of SEC facilities published by The State newspaper in South Carolina in July 2007 ranked Arkansas’ facilities among the best in every sport. Arkansas received No. 1 rankings for basketball and baseball, a No. 3 ranking for Olympic sport venues and a No. 5 ranking for football.

After Broyles led the fundraising effort, Razorback Stadium was expanded from 51,000 to 72,000 seats prior to the 2001 season. Club levels and a massive video screen were added. Broyles earlier had overseen the construction of Bud Walton Arena for basketball. The Razorbacks won the national championship during their first season in the 19,200-seat facility, still among the nation’s finest on-campus basketball palaces.

Also under Broyles’ leadership:

  • The Willard and Pat Walker Pavilion was built to give the football team a full-size facility for indoor practices. A 38,000-square-foot strength and conditioning center was added in 2004.
  • The Randal Tyson Track Center was completed in 2000, giving Arkansas the top indoor track facility in the country.
  • Baum Stadium at George Cole Field was named the nation’s best college facility by Baseball America shortly after it opened in 1996. The 2003 season saw the addition of 2,600 chair-back seats, eight skyboxes, a natural grass playing surface and a scoreboard with a video screen. Three years later, 20 additional skyboxes and another 1,500 chair-back seats were added.
  • The Fred W. and Mary B. Smith Golf Center gave the Razorback golf team one of the most modern golf practice facilities in the country.
  • The Dills Indoor Tennis Center was dedicated in the spring of 2002.
  • John McDonnell Field opened in 2006 and was immediately proclaimed as being among the world’s premier outdoor track and field venues.

In retrospect, Broyles’ most important move may have been moving Arkansas from the Southwest Conference to the Southeastern Conference. Almost two decades later, other schools find themselves wishing they had SEC membership.

At the end of 1957, Frank Broyles saw the potential of uniting an entire state behind one major college program. He would see his dream become a reality, not only in football but in multiple sports – Rex Nelson.

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