Frank Broyles: A Sugar Bowl Legend

By Ted Lewis for the Allstate Sugar Bowl

[This story originally appeared in the Official Game Program for the 2018 Allstate Sugar Bowl.]

It’s safe to say that no person wore more hats at the Allstate Sugar Bowl than Frank Broyles.

Broyles, who died in August at age 92, participated in the game as both a player and assistant coach at Georgia Tech, TV analyst for ABC, and head coach, athletic director and finally, fundraiser for the athletic department at Arkansas when the Razorbacks played Ohio State in the 2011 game.

That’s 18 times spending New Year’s Day in New Orleans in some official capacity.

“And I have enjoyed every one of them,” Broyles once said, despite having a 1-4 record in the bowl as a head coach and AD.

But those losses were just a few down experiences for a man who often said he lived a charmed life.

No one would argue with that.

That final fundraising post at Arkansas, which ended with his retirement in 2014, culminated a remarkable career which saw Broyles guide a school considered remote and an outsider in its own conference to becoming a national power in several sports, thanks to Broyles’ foresight in emphasizing the importance of on-campus facilities.

In doing that, Broyles mobilized an entire state to support the Razorbacks to a degree unmatched by any other school in the country.

Broyles also engineered Arkansas’ move to the Southeastern Conference, which set off realignment and financial changes that shape college sports a quarter century later.

“I don’t know of anybody other than Bill Clinton who had a bigger impact on the state of Arkansas than Coach Broyles,” said current Razorbacks associate athletic director Kevin Trainor. “And it’s pretty close.”

Before coming to his adopted state, Broyles, a native of Atlanta, was the 1944 SEC Player of the Year at Georgia Tech (and a member of the 1943 Yellow Jackets team which defeated Tulsa in the Sugar Bowl), an assistant at Baylor and Florida, and the offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech, helping the Yellow Jackets to three more Sugar Bowl victories.

He spent one year as the head coach at Missouri before landing the Arkansas job in 1957.

Over 19 seasons, Broyles’ Razorback teams were 144-58-5 with seven Southwest Conference titles and 10 bowl appearances including the 1962, 1963, 1969 and 1970 Sugar Bowls.

During that time, Broyles developed a coaching tree that included Super Bowl winners Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer. The annual award that goes to the top college assistant coach in the country is named for Broyles.

Moonlighting on TV, Broyles’ spent nine years in the booth with Keith Jackson, which included eight Sugar Bowls (he didn’t work the 1980 game when Arkansas played Alabama). Broyles was considered the most astute analyst in the business. Their partnership remains the model for rapport between broadcast partners.

Not surprisingly, Broyles’ accomplishments went beyond sports.

When his wife Barbara, the high school sweetheart he’d married 59 years before, died in 2004 from complications of Alzheimer’s, Broyles wrote a book on caregiving for those with the disease and established a foundation devoted to improving the quality of life for those persons and their loved ones.

Broyles’ list of honors is a long one, including the College Football Hall of Fame.

And now he has a new one – a member of the inaugural class of the Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame.

Sugar Bowl Chief Executive Officer Paul Hoolahan called Broyles, “truly an icon on the game,” adding about his last time at the bowl, “He really didn’t want to be on the center stage anymore, but he also knew how much people wanted to be around him, so he remained very approachable.

“I never met anyone more comfortable in his own skin who never felt like he had to impress anybody. Frank Broyles was the consummate gentleman and a genuinely good human being.”

Broyles was also the consummate competitor, even when it came to bowl games.

“I’ve never known anyone in my life to be more competitive than him,” said Chuck Dicus, the MVP of Arkansas’ 16-2 victory against Georgia in the 1969 Sugar Bowl, Broyles’ only one as a head coach in the game. “He coached to win. That was a trademark of Frank Broyles.”

That was also the case the year after the victory over Georgia. The Razorbacks returned to the Sugar Bowl to play Ole Miss in the wake of their 15-14 “Big Shootout” loss to Texas in what was considered a de facto national championship game.

Dicus acknowledged that the loss to Texas was hard to get over and Arkansas lost the Sugar Bowl to Archie Manning and the Rebels, 27-23.

But he doesn’t fault Broyles.

“The coaching staff got us ready to play the game just like they always did,” he said. “Part of that was making you expect that you can overcome any adversity, and not making excuses for failure.

“We worked hard and moved the ball pretty well (Arkansas outgained Ole Miss 527-427 and Dicus had a bowl record 171 receiving yards). Archie just had a better day than we did.”

For Broyles, that desire to win carried over during his time as athletic director, a post he first assumed in 1973 and then occupied full time after he stepped down from coaching three years later.

He made bold hires – like Lou Holtz to succeed him, Eddie Sutton in basketball and then Nolan Richardson, the first African-American head coach at a major Southern university who would take the Razorbacks to an NCAA championship, and John McDonnell, who would win 42 national championships in track and field.

Broyles wasn’t afraid of making a hard or controversial decision, either.  He fired football coach Jack Crowe just one game into the 1992 season – a loss to The Citadel, and in 1990 he parted ways with Ken Hatfield, the man who followed Holtz, over contract issues after Hatfield had gone 55-17-1 in his five seasons.

“It was never personal (with Broyles), and he never told me how to coach my team,” said Hatfield.  “He was just doing what he felt was best for the University of Arkansas.”

So strong was the relationship between Hatfield and Broyles, that when Broyles passed away his family asked Hatfield to be one of the eulogists at the funeral.

“I talked about the impact he had on my life and on so many others,” said Hatfield, a member of Broyles’ first two Sugar Bowl teams which lost to Alabama and Ole Miss respectively. “Coach Broyles did things that unified the entire state.

“When you grew up in Arkansas (Hatfield is from Helena), you dreamed of being a Razorback and playing for Coach Broyles.”

Broyles developed that loyalty first by travelling to every corner of the state to promote his program (making the Razorback games available to every radio station helped as well).

Then, after building the program throughout the 1960s and becoming athletic director, he initiated the improvement of long-neglected facilities in other sports (unselfishly saving football for last because he knew the money for that would always be there), and making all Razorback sports relevant and important to fans.

That made Arkansas a serious candidate when SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer first explored expansion in 1990. But Hoolahan, then athletic director at Vanderbilt, said it still took some personal salesmanship.

“We knew Arkansas was interested, but they were considered a Southwest Conference school,” Hoolahan said. “But Coach Broyles made such a convincing case that Roy decided this was the right direction to go.

“Frank Broyles gave everything an automatic sense of credibility.”

To Trainor, more than anything it was Broyles’ vision for college sports that is his cemented his legacy, even more so than what he achieved on the football field.

“He saw things down the road, where the dominos would fall,” Trainor said. “He made Arkansas a place to succeed long term because he got the university in position of where it needed to be in all sports.

“And he was able to harness all the resources of a small state to make it happen. What he did was unmatched in athletics.”

Trainor got to know Broyles even better when he became his son-in-law after Broyles married his widowed mother-in-law in 2005.

“Coach Broyles had such a passion for life,” Trainor said. “And he was as proud of what he did to help those affected by Alzheimer’s as he was about what he’d done as a coach and administrator.

“He had a wonderful quality of life almost right up to the end.”

Indeed, he did.

After retiring from the athletic director post in 2007 at age 82, Broyles worked with Dicus, then the head of the Razorback Foundation, as a fundraiser. He also helped raise millions for non-athletic entities such as the school library.

“He didn’t like asking people directly for money,” Dicus said. “But he could present an idea to a donor in a way where it seemed more like a gift.”

Ultimately, it was Alzheimer’s which took Broyles from the active list, although as late as last spring he was able to attend Razorback baseball games.

“It was sad to lose him,” Dicus said. “But Coach Broyles always said he lived a charmed life, and that meant helping the University of Arkansas for long as he could.

“That wasn’t just idle talk. He sincerely meant every bit of it.”

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