Frank Broyles, Arkansas Razorback icon, dead at 92

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KARK) — Former University of Arkansas head football coach and athletics director Frank Broyles has passed away at age 92. Broyles, an Arkansas icon for close to 60 years, had been in declining health for several months.

He was born John Franklin on December 26, 1924, in Decatur, Georgia, the youngest of O.T. and Louise Broyles’ five children. He often credited his mother with sparking a lifelong interested in athletics but brothers Charles, Anton and Bill participated in sports growing up as did his sister, also named Louise. When his older siblings graduated from high school they, “went to work because of the depression, “Broyles recalled in a 2013 interview, “so I was the first one in my family to go to college.”

Broyles quickly established himself as a multi-sport athlete at Georgia Tech, starring at quarterback for the Yellow Jackets football team. He enlisted in the Navy after his sophomore year and was allowed to remain in school drawing $51 a month as a Seaman 3rd class. In 1944 Broyles was named the SEC player of the year and set an Orange Bowl passing record that stood for 56 years. After graduation in 1945 Broyles was sent to Providence, Rhode Island where he earned a Navy Commission. It was during this time that he married the former Barbara Day, his high school sweetheart. The two had met four years earlier when Day moved to Decatur to live with her aunt and uncle.

“Decatur Boys High and Decatur Girls High were separate schools,” Broyles explained.  “The gym was between us. All the boys would get down before school started and watch the pretty girls walk by. One day we all said, ‘Well who is this new girl?’ I got word who she was, so I called her, knowing that she had a date with Roy Brown. She cancelled the date with Roy Brown but I had no car and no gas. I finally found a friend who loaned me his car and we went to the Fox Theatre on our first date.”

The war ended shortly after Broyles returned to Providence with his bride. Discharged from the Navy, Broyles returned to Atlanta and prepared to rejoin the Georgia Tech football team because his two years in the Navy had not counted against his college eligibility. But when he learned that Georgia Tech assistant coach Bob Woodruff had taken the head football coach’s job at Baylor, Broyles asked for a job on Woodruff’s staff.

“I said, ‘Bob I really want to be a coach. Would you hire me as a freshman coach?'” Broyles recalled. “He took me outside because he didn’t want anyone to hear. He offered me the backfield job. I was 22 and he knew I would be coaching veterans who were older than me. He said, ‘I’m going to up your age to 25.’ He coached the line. I coached the backs. Bill Henderson was the basketball coach and he coached the ends part-time. Pete Jones was the baseball coach and he coached the freshmen. That was our staff.”

Arriving on campus at Waco on the same day as Broyles was a freshman quarterback out of Odessa, Texas High School named Hayden Fry. “I was 22 and he was 20,” Broyles said with a laugh. After college Fry was a high school coach and history teacher, served in the Marines and returned to Baylor as a defensive backfield coach before rejoining Broyles in 1961 as Arkansas’ offensive backfield coach. One of the many student athletes Fry coached over the years was current Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema.

Broyles coached at Baylor from 1947-49 and it was on a 1948 trip to Fayetteville for a game against the Razorbacks that he got his first look at the place he would eventually call home for the last six decades of his life.

“We stayed at the Mountain Inn,” Broyles remembered. “Everybody else would usually stay in Ft. Smith or even Tulsa and come over (for the game). But we stayed in town. We’d always have a pregame meal and then go for a walk and we walked around the (downtown) city block. I saw on every store a Hog. I saw it on every car, Go Hogs. I’d never seen such fan support. Hogs everywhere. I said, ‘That’s the job I want.'”

It would take almost a decade for Broyles to land that job. He left Baylor for Florida with Woodruff in 1950 and returned to Georgia Tech as the offensive coordinator a year later under Bobby Dodd. In 1957 he served for one year as Missouri’s head coach before taking a fateful phone call from Arkansas’ athletics director John Barnhill, a call Broyles described in great detail:

“He called me December the 6th at 8:31 and 30 seconds and said, ‘Frank this is Barney.'”

“I said, ‘What in the heck have you been waiting on?'”

“He said, ‘Well, I’ve been trying to get the ducks on the pond.'”

“I said, ‘Where are they?'”

“He said, ‘They’re all swimmin.'”

“I said, ‘I’ll be there tomorrow.'”

Broyles would coach at Arkansas for 19 seasons. In the decade of the 60’s, Arkansas won five SWC titles, finished second three times, won a national championship and came within a few points of winning two more. Broyles always said the secret to his success was that Barnhill gave him the money to hire the best assistant coaches available. Barry Switzer, Jimmy Johnson, Joe Gibbs, Johnny Majors and Fry all coached under him. Broyles’ assistants went on to win 6 super bowls, 5 college national championships and 40 conferences titles as head coaches.

“I’d hire a coach that was doing the best,” Broyles reasoned, “and he would come and contribute. We wouldn’t change everything but he would contribute and help us. So we were always expanding our ideas and trying to stay ahead of what’s best in college football.”

After stepping down as Arkansas’ head football coach in 1977 Broyles settled in for a long tenure as the school’s athletics director. He built new facilities in basketball, baseball, track and tennis. He created a successful women’s athletic department, renovated Razorback Stadium in football and took Arkansas into the SEC. Coaches he hired won 42 national championships at the school and countless conference titles.

Described by some as a micro manager who fired coaches that did not accept his advice, Broyles once said, “I never fired anybody in my life. I just got ’em other jobs.”

Indeed, former Arkansas head football coach Lou Holtz, fired by Broyles in 1983, credits Broyles with helping him get the Notre Dame job where he won a national championship in 1988. Broyles was upfront about his hiring practices saying that he always wanted a coach at the peak of his career with, “a fire in his belly to win.” Once his coaches had passed that point he admitted that he began looking around for a possible replacement much as he had done in 1977 when, in effect, he fired himself as the head football coach to hire Holtz.

“As a coach when you’re scared, you want to prove yourself,” Broyles explained. “You haven’t done enough to say, ‘My job’s secure.’ I think it’s best when you’re not secure. You’re going to work harder. You’re going to do a better job knowing that you’ve got to improve the situation. You cannot stand still in any profession, much less in coaching.”

In October of 2004 Broyles lost Barbara to Alzheimer’s five years after she was diagnosed with the disease. They had been married for 59 years.

In December of 2007 Broyles retired from the university after 50 years of continuous service. He moved his office down Razorback Road to the Razorback Foundation where he served as a fundraiser and started The Barbara Broyles Legacy Foundation. Along with his daughter Betsy and granddaughter Molly, Broyles traveled across the country telling the story of his wife’s illness and the care his family had provided her. He published Coach Broyles Playbook for Alzheimer’s Caregivers to aid those suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and their families.

Over the years Broyles had chances to, in the minds of some, improve his own situation. He turned down an offer to run the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons’ front office. He also rejected a chance to return to his alma mater as athletics director. There were other offers that were never made public.

“People quit mentioning my name because they knew I wasn’t gonna leave, Broyles admitted. “I had what I wanted. I thought it was the best job in America. Arkansas fans have more passion that any place I know. Why would I want to leave?”

Click here for obituary released by family.

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