Take a bow, Baz

No idea too big, too small for ex-Hog to tackle

By: Bob Holt
Published: Wednesday, February 26, 2014
The Broyles Award, given each year to the outstanding assistant coach in college football, sits in the foreground while David Bazzel gives the opening remarks at the first Touchdown Club luncheon of 2013.
Photo by Bobby Ampezzan
The Broyles Award, given each year to the outstanding assistant coach in college football, sits in the foreground while David Bazzel gives the opening remarks at the first Touchdown Club luncheon of 2013.

David Bazzel figures he’s given about 3,000 speeches to entertain groups, promote an event or help move along a program.

Friday night will be different.

That’s when Bazzel, the former Arkansas Razorbacks linebacker who has become the consummate sports awards creator for his adopted home state, will be inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

For a change, Bazzel will be the guy being honored instead of helping someone else celebrate winning an award.

David Bazzel At a Glance

AGE 50 (born Oct. 13, 1963)

HOMETOWN Panama City, Fla.

RESIDES Little Rock

COLLEGE Linebacker at Arkansas in 1981-1985. Started his junior and senior seasons. Graduated with education degree in 1986.

NOTEWORTHY Had 113 tackles as a Razorbacks junior in 1984 and 86 as a senior in 1985. Played on four bowl teams that combined for a 34-12-2 record.... Created the Broyles Award and the Golden Boot Trophy in 1996 and added the Cliff Harris, Dan Hampton and Willie Roaf awards in 2013 . ... Founded Little Rock Touchdown Club in 2004. ... Cohosts a daily radio show in Little Rock and has worked in television. ... Served as chairman of the Governor’s Council on Fitness.

“I’m pretty experienced at giving speeches, but this is going to be different - where the focus is me -and it’s very humbling,” Bazzel said. “It’s a great honor. I’m extremely appreciative.

“When I came to Arkansas, it never crossed my mind that 30 years later I’d be giving a speech about being inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

That whole scenario is a little bit surreal to me.”

Bazzel, 50, started his final two seasons at Arkansas in 1984 and 1985, when he had 113 and 86 tackles, respectively. He played on four bowl teams that were a combined 34-12-2, including 10-2 in 1985 when the Razorbacks beat Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl.

“I know my recognition is more for what I’ve done off the field than on the field,” said Bazzel, who came to Arkansas from Panama City, Fla. “I’m guess I’m sort of a weird candidate for the Hall of Fame in the sense that I definitely had a nice playing career, but I wasn’t an All-American, wasn’t a guy who played in the pros.”

Ken Hatfield, who coached Bazzel at Arkansas his final two seasons, said his Hall of Fame induction is well deserved.

“I think his contribution to sports in Arkansas has been incredible,” said Hatfield, a 1989 Hall of Fame inductee. “There’s never been someone who has given as much to our state both as a player and then after his playing time as David.”

Bazzel may be best known for creating the Broyles Award, which since 1996 has been presented annually to the nation’s top assistant football coach during a banquet held in Little Rock.

The award is named in honor of Frank Broyles, the former Arkansas coach and athletic director who became known for grooming assistant coaches who went on to head coaching success, including Barry Switzer, Jimmy Johnson, Joe Gibbs and Johnny Majors.

It is now recognized as one of the top awards nationally. Several Broyles Award winners have become head coaches, including Gus Malzahn (Auburn) and David Cutcliffe (Duke), who in 2013 both earned some national coach of the year honors. Arkansas assistant coach Randy Shannon, a former Miami head coach, won the Broyles Award in 2001 as the Hurricanes’ defensive coordinator.

“To do something that will always be part of Coach Broyles’ legacy, I’m really proud of that,” Bazzel said.

“To know that Coach Broyles and his family are happy with it, and to see what it means to all the assistant coaches to be recognized, gives me a lot of satisfaction.”

Considering what the Broyles Award has become, it’s easy now to see its value.

But no one thought of honoring assistant coaches until Bazzel came up with the idea during a meeting with the Major Sports Association to discuss creating new events for Little Rock.

“I thought, ‘What hasn’t been done? You know what?

Nobody has ever given any attention to assistant coaches,’ ” Bazzel said. “I had heard about Coach Broyles and his reputation for having so many great assistant coaches who became head coaches. The more I dug, the more it became pretty evident that, oh my gosh, this is a no-brainer. Coach Broyles deserves to have his name on this award.”

Bazzel founded the Little Rock Touchdown Club in 2004, which now attracts huge crowds for its meetings to hear an all-star lineup of speakers from the college football world.

Earlier this year, Bazzel created the Cliff Harris Award (for the top small college player), named for the former Ouachita Baptist and Dallas Cowboys star, and awards named in honor of Arkansas natives Dan Hampton and Willie Roaf - both Pro Football Hall of Famers - for the top high school and college linemen in Arkansas.

Bazzel created “The Golden Boot” Trophy that goes to the winner of the Arkansas-LSU game. He has served as chairman of the Governor’s Council on Fitness, and he founded the state high school weight-lifting championships.

“I like to consider myself an idea guy,” Bazzel said. “I like to be creative on different levels.”

Bazzel has made his home in Little Rock since graduating from Arkansas in 1986with an education degree, leaving for six months in 2003 to pursue business interests in Nashville, Tenn.

For 12 years, two years before his move to Nashville and for the past 10 years since his return, Bazzel has co-hosted a popular morning radio show on KABZ-FM, 103.7. He spent five years as a rotational host of an afternoon sports call-in show, Drivetime Sports, has done television work for KARK, Channel 4, and used to write a fitness column for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

He was an adviser to the late businessman Jennings Osborne, and in that capacity worked on projects with four U.S. presidents.

He has also been an advocate and promotor of the Razorbacks’ live mascot, Tusk.

“I’ve had a peek into a lot of different worlds,” Bazzel said. “It’s made life pretty interesting and compelling.”

An Arkansas alumnus living in Panama City alerted Razorbacks coaches that they should recruit Bazzel.

He turned down offers from Florida, Florida State, Miami and Georgia to sign with Arkansas in 1981.

Bazzel said he liked the coaching staff - Lou Holtz was the Razorbacks’ coach at the time - as well as the rolling hills around Fayetteville, and he appreciated that the state’s fans were united behind one program.

“I knew that if I did well on the field and could establish myself in the community and the state, that once I was done with football I might have the opportunity to do some things,” Bazzel said. “It’s remarkable I was thinking about that at age 16 or 17, but that’s exactly what happened.”

Bazzel said the Razorbacks got excellent coaching from Holtz’s and Hatfield’s staffs.

“They were great with the details and the fundamentals,” Bazzel said. “We didn’t have maybe the biggest or fastest teams, but we were going to execute, we were going to know what we were doing, and we were going to fight you.”

One of Bazzel’s best games came in the 1984 Liberty Bowl, a 21-15 loss to Auburn and Bo Jackson. Bazzel played most of the game with a broken hand but finished with 15 tackles.

“He was an excellent leader and an excellent player,” Holtz said in February when he spoke at the Little Rock Touchdown Club’s awards banquet, in large part as a favor to Bazzel. “He chose Arkansas. We did not entice him to come to Arkansas. He came here because he wanted a place where he would enjoy it, have success and have a career after he’s done.

“He’s done all that right here.”

Hatfield said that when he replaced Holtz at Arkansas in 1984, Bazzel helped make the transition easier.

“David bought into the team concept after a coaching change, and he was always positive,” Hatfield said. “His leadership was outstanding, and he was one of the toughest linebackers we’ve ever had.”

Bazzel said he understood playing for the Razorbacks might help open some doors for him, but that he’s had to work hard for the projects he believes in so strongly. His induction into the Hall of Fame is tangible evidence of his impact.

“It really sort of validates the hard work you put into it, that people have enjoyed what you do,” Bazzel said.

“Some of the things I’ve done have meant something to the people of Arkansas, and that’s important to me.”

Information for this article was contributed by staff writer Jeremy Muck.

Sports, Pages 19 on 02/26/2014