State of the Hogs: One year later, remembering Frank Broyles

By: Clay Henry
Published: Friday, August 17, 2018
Betsy Broyles Arnold (left), Frank Broyles (center) and Molly Arnold are shown during a reception Dec. 8, 2015, at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock.
Photo by Bobby Ampezzan
Betsy Broyles Arnold (left), Frank Broyles (center) and Molly Arnold are shown during a reception Dec. 8, 2015, at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock.

— A box found during a recent move included about a dozen newspaper clippings from the week that my father died. Reading some for the first time reminded me that I've got a long way to go to become a writer.

Whether it was the work of Nate Allen, Jerry Reed, or Harry King, how they constructed a sentence and the way they remembered my dad's writing, was a chilling reminder that your work is important.

The job is to communicate with the reader, make them want to return the next day for more, provide enjoyment in the story of the day.

And, without doubt, for most, the story of the day has always been the Razorbacks. And, if it wasn't, then it should have been.

My father, the late Orville Henry, taught me that. Most often, his stories had one central figure. If it wasn't the Razorbacks, then it was the late Frank Broyles. They were undeniably linked. One provided the story, the other told it, over and over for about 60 years.

It took me a long time to figure out my father was important around the state. When it clicked, I thought it was because he was a beloved writer. No, he said, with emphasis. He was loved because he wrote about what the people loved, the Razorbacks.

“Don't ever confuse that you are the story; the Razorbacks are the story,” he said. “If you will do that, you can hold a job here. If you don't get that, find something else to do.

“It's what binds our state together, all 75 counties, the Razorbacks.”

I didn't plan to lead with this information earlier this week when I asked Betsy Broyles Arnold if she would grant an interview. The story line would be what life has been the last 12 months without her beloved father, Frank Broyles.

There was appropriate mourning when he passed Aug. 14, 2017 at age 92. The newspapers were full of stories that detailed his great, full life as a player (Georgia Tech), coach (Georgia Tech, Baylor, Missouri and Arkansas) and athletic director (Arkansas). No one did it better when you add up the stops he made and the hats he wore.

The national TV media also offered tributes to Broyles.

I don't have to go into detail. Almost everyone who lives in Arkansas understands when they see Broyles Field on the outside walls of the stadium when they drive north on Razorback Road. They know why there is a statue. They get it without explanation. He is the greatest man to touch athletics in our state.

It's not one thing, although the winning in football set it all in motion. There were seven Southwest Conference titles during his time as coach and the 1964 national title in the middle of a run of 22 straight victories.

It's that dominating run through all those good teams in Texas that allowed Broyles to call the shots for the UA for the next 50 years. If he needed money for a coach, a building, or to upgrade a sport, the movers and shakers in Arkansas wrote the check, almost immediately.

I was told of a meeting of around 200 top supporters at Pleasant Valley Country Club in Little Rock some 40 years ago. Frank asked for a check. One hundred ninety-seven pulled out their checkbook that night; the other three made it unanimous the next day.

Frank's run was not always perfect. He didn't always please everyone in Arkansas and there were times not all of his coaches were happy with him. You'd hear the gossip, the rumblings if he did not win every game, or one of his coaches lost a game or Arkansas had a bad season.

What was Frank doing? Was he meddling? Could he fix a relationship perceived to have soured?

Betsy and I talked about all that. In fact, she brought it up as we discussed her dad's greatest quality. He forgave and forgot. Others may have gossiped about him; he did not participate. He did not complain about anything and approached his job and life with a positive attitude.

“There was no gossip allowed in our house,” she said. “My mother wouldn't allow it and my dad wouldn't allow it. There was no negative talk allowed, on anything.”

There was an old saying that set the ground rules for Barbara as well as Frank.

“We were prevented from saying bad about anyone,” Betsy said. “They would say, 'Only believe half of what you see and nothing of what you hear.' You were cut short if you broke that rule.

“What I remember them telling us is that you don't know the circumstances or the context. I would probably think some don't believe me, but he never broke that rule. He never talked about the coaches or about anyone. No gossip was allowed in our home.”

Those were among the highlights from an hour of looking back with Betsy on what she calls “both a good year and a sad year, combined together.”

Betsy worked with her father hand in hand, literally, as they built the Broyles Foundation to help Alzheimer care givers. In the end, she was able to provide more first hand knowledge of what it's like to watch a loved one fall to the disease, just as she and her family had done with her mother.

The stories bring tears, but they also bring to light what most of us eventually learn when our parents or loved ones go through similar ordeals.

I recall seeing the family huddled around Coach Broyles the day before his passing. Betsy was exhausted, having not slept in the previous week. She told about an unbelievable burst of energy that her dad felt just days before when he decided to give the halftime speech from the 1969 Sugar Bowl.

“Those kind of things started after a stroke he had in June,” Betsy said. “The biggest thing that stroke did was effect his vision in his left eye and it reminded us of some things we knew about Alzheimer and the way something like that can hit.

“They travel back in time and have delusions. His could be on anything. Sometimes it was about a game, or it could be a trip on the train back from a game in Texas, or it might be about playing golf at Augusta National.

“Some of them I sure wish I'd had a recorder running because they were amazing. There was once when he asked me who was standing to the left. He couldn't see to the left because of the stroke. I told him those were Razorback fans.”

Betsy loved what followed.

“He began to talk, so clearly, so eloquently,” Betsy said.

Was there any other way for Frank Broyles to talk?

“What you know about what someone with Alzheimer says, it's child like, it's straight from the heart, the truth,” Betsy said. “So I knew it was unfiltered.

“He just started talking to the fans he thought were out there to his left that I told him were there. He thanked them for letting him coach the Razorbacks, stay at Arkansas for all these years. He spoke about his charmed life. He made a speech to them that was wonderful.”

Another time he spoke about being on a train from Georgia Tech in Atlanta to Decatur, his hometown.

“It finally hit me that he was going home to see our mom for a date,” Betsy said. “It was a story we'd never heard. I was able to ask him questions about it. We learned so much.”

The last 12 months, so many have kept sharing memories of Coach Broyles.

“Oh, yes, so many former players and coaches have given us incredible stories, one by one,” Betsy said. “They call and come by the Foundation, or to see other family members. We've heard so many life lessons that my father taught them at different points in their lives, things we've never heard.

“One of the things I've finally been able to do is read some of the stories in the newspapers that so many have written and what the players and coaches have said about dad. I just couldn't do it at the time.

“So I can tell you the morning after dad passed, I picked up the paper and there it said, 'Broyles Dead at 92.' I just put it down. I hadn't slept in so long. I just couldn't read any of it. I have now. It's all been wonderful.

“And, now we have the documentary produced by the school. Kevin Trainor did a wonderful job, as did everyone associated with it. It was perfect.

“Molly has been working on another documentary that we were going to release this week, but we held it and will do it another time. It's a little different.”

There is more of a focus on the Broyles Foundation, where Betsy and Molly work.

“I do remember seeing some of the TV specials that came out after Dad passed,” Betsy said. “We've got all of those and they are cherished by our family. What we have is an incredible amount of things that grand children and their children can watch some day. It will just help them understand.

“Some families have home movies or phone footage they have collected themselves, but what we have on our dad and grandfather is done by the best in the business.”

That's a good thing, too, for the generations of Razorback fans still to come. They'll learn about Frank Broyles and understand why his statue south of the stadium is appropriate.

“What I hope they feel when they see any of this is the enthusiasm my dad felt for the state of Arkansas,” Betsy said. “He wanted to elevate the state's reputation to the highest level.

“What I've done the last year is work as hard as I could to become more like him. He treated everyone he met with such respect. He stopped for everyone. I saw it so much from when I was young until his last years. Everyone held the same importance to him and I want to be like that.

“If something bothered him, it didn't for long. He moved on and then he'd circle back later to make sure it was something that both could put behind them. He even did that with the coaches who left.

“He'd take the blame. He respected all people. He always told me, 'Don't argue with anyone.' And, that went for those who wrote for the papers. He told me once, 'You can't argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel.' If someone got on to him in a story, he just moved on. I'm not sure how many could do that.”

There are more simple concepts that Betsy saw even as a youngster. Her father could pick out a voice in a crowd – maybe from a child – and stop to listen.

“I have bad moments where I'm focused on something and I don't hear someone who wants to speak to me,” she said. “I'll take a step and realize that I didn't listen and I try to go back. That's me trying to be like my dad. It upsets me that I let it happen because he wouldn't have done that. It was just the way he was and I'm trying to learn.”

Betsy’s childhood memories came flooding back when I told her where I was sitting during our phone interview — in the stands in an empty Barnhill Arena.

“I played there as a child, sometimes when it was empty, sometimes when there was practice going on, football or basketball,” she said. “The south side was dirt, where they practiced football. I'd climb a ladder into the rafters to watch practice. And, there was a rope the players used for hand strength, climbing it in the offseason workouts. I'd use it to swing out over the pole vault pit and jump.

“I'd hang out there until practice was over. I'd catch Bill McClard's kicks and run them back to him. I'd wait there until my dad was done with practice. He'd come home for dinner and then go back to meet with the coaches.”

Oh, what a life. The stories went on and on.

“I remember when your family came to our house after games for dinner,” Betsy said. “We'd play outside or downstairs while the coaches ate dinner with the media. Your mom and dad were there.”

Stories about our mothers took over. They sounded the same as we talked about the way our mothers ran the house when our dads were off doing their thing, at football games all over Texas.

“I don't think we knew that our dads were famous,” Betsy said. “Did you?”

No, it just seemed like normal family stuff at our house, probably like it did at every kitchen table around the state. To be honest, that's what it was like all over Arkansas. It was about the Razorbacks.

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