"The game of life is a lot like football. You have to tackle your problems, block your fears and score your points when you get the opportunity."
I've been writing my blogs for close to 10 years now, and anyone who has read them for any length of time should know that I grew up in Arkansas.
And if you grew up in Arkansas in the latter half of the 20th century, Frank Broyles was an ever–constant presence. He was the coach of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks football team from 1958 to 1976 and the school's athletic director from 1974 to 2007.
He died of Alzheimer's disease today at the age of 92.
People outside Arkansas were probably more likely to know of my home state's politicians — John McClellan, Bill Fulbright, Wilbur Mills, Orval Faubus — than Broyles. But the opposite was probably true of the people who lived in the state.
Oh, sure, most Arkansans probably knew who their governor was or who their senators were. All three were in office so long it would be hard not to know who they were.
But Broyles was different. Frank Litsky wrote in The New York Times that Broyles put Arkansas on the map. A lot of people probably think Bill Clinton did that when he became president — or maybe that Faubus did it during the Central High integration crisis in the late '50s — but it really was Broyles.
Arkansas had been playing football for more than half a century when Broyles took over as head coach but had appeared in only four bowls. In less than 20 years at the helm, Broyles took the Razorbacks to 10 bowl games and won four.
Broyles even won a national championship at Arkansas. It wasn't undisputed. He had to share it with Bear Bryant and Alabama back in the days when the polls determined the national champion, but it still counts as a national championship, and all my friends in Arkansas still speak of it as if Arkansas had been the undisputed champ.
As athletic director, Broyles knew how to hire championship–caliber coaches. He hired Lou Holtz as his successor. Holtz led the Hogs to a #3 national finish in his first season at Arkansas and went on to win a national championship at Notre Dame.
And Broyles hired Nolan Richardson to coach the basketball team. Richardson did win a national championship at Arkansas and took the Razorbacks back to the championship game the following year.
In Northwest Arkansas — around Eureka Springs, to be precise — atop a place called Magnetic Mountain there is a 65–foot statue called Christ of the Ozarks. It depicts a Christlike figure with his arms outstretched on each side. It was supposed to be part of a religious theme park — a dream that never really came to fruition — but a large amphitheater was built on the property, and it hosts performances of "The Great Passion Play" every year.
Broyles is part of many fond memories for me, most involving football games (some of which ended well, some of which did not), but perhaps my fondest memory is from my days as a journalism student at the University of Arkansas. I was writing for the student newspaper, the Arkansas Traveler, and I called the athletic department one day to follow up on stories we had been hearing of the Razorbacks possibly scheduling one of their games overseas.
It turned out that there was far more rumor than fact to that story, but I soon found myself on the phone with none other than Frank Broyles himself. He was busy that day, but he took the time to speak to a campus reporter, and he did so with grace and patience.
The interview didn't last long — no more than five or 10 minutes, I guess — but what a thrill it was for me to be talking to someone I had grown up watching on TV. It was a Sunday afternoon ritual for me during football season to watch Frank Broyles going over footage from the game the day before on his coach's show (in those days, that was the only way to see most of the games so I never missed an opportunity to watch the Broyles show).
I could tell from our conversation that the Frank Broyles I had seen on TV was the genuine article. It wasn't an act.
With Frank Broyles, what you saw truly was what you got.
After graduation, I went on to work at the Arkansas Gazette and I got to meet some famous people when they came to town — but I never felt the same thrill I felt when I interviewed Frank Broyles.