From Fayetteville to beyond, Arkansas has been home to several of college football's great coaches

By: Bob Holt
Published: Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Former Arkansas football coaches Frank Broyles (left), Ken Hatfield (center) and Danny Ford are shown during the unveiling of the Burlsworth Trophy on Monday, Aug. 23, 2010, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Michael Woods
Former Arkansas football coaches Frank Broyles (left), Ken Hatfield (center) and Danny Ford are shown during the unveiling of the Burlsworth Trophy on Monday, Aug. 23, 2010, in Fayetteville.

— Fordyce, Crossett and Lewisville had a combined population of 11,087 in 2010 according to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Yet, those small towns in southern Arkansas produced three of the biggest names in college football.

Paul “Bear” Bryant, Barry Switzer and Charlie McClendon all rank among the top 100 on the 150 greatest college football coaches ever, according to a list compiled by ESPN to celebrate the sport’s 150th season in 2019.

Bryant, who had a 232-46-9 record and won six national championships and 14 SEC titles in 25 seasons at Alabama from 1958-82 and a career record of 323-85-17 including other stops at Maryland, Kentucky and Texas A&M, was born in Moro Bottom and grew up in Fordyce.

No surprise that Bryant is No. 1 on ESPN’s list.

Switzer, a Crossett native who was a player and assistant coach at the University of Arkansas, is No. 13 on the list. He had a 157-29-4 record at Oklahoma and won three national championships and 12 Big Eight Conference titles for the Sooners in 16 seasons from 1973-88.

McClendon, who was from Lewisville and played two seasons at Southern Arkansas in the 1940s when it was a junior college, had a 137-59-7 record with 13 bowl teams in 18 seasons as LSU’s coach from 1962-79. He’s No. 96 on the list.

All three are in the College Football Hall of Fame.

“I used to tell people when I was young, ‘You know, there’s four big-time coaches from south Arkansas,’ ” said Louis Campbell, a Hamburg native who was a player and assistant coach for the Razorbacks. “They’d said, ‘Who?’”

“I’d say, Coach Bryant, Barry Switzer, Charlie McClendon and Louis Campbell. They’d say, ‘Who’s that last guy?’ ”

Take the combined estimated population in the years they were born — 1913 for Bryant, 1923 for McClendon and 1937 for Swizer — and there were 6,772 people in Fordyce, Lewsville and Crossett.

“They came out of the sticks, out of nowhere really,” Campbell said. “How did they come from such a rural upbringing to become great coaches?

“They were truly special people. They just had something inside of them and it kept driving them and propelled them to be what they were.”

Bryant, Switzer and McClendon are among 15 coaches on ESPN’s greatest 150 list who have a connection to Arkansas.

Former Razorbacks head coaches on the list are Lou Holtz (23), Frank Broyles (40), Danny Ford (73), Hugo Bezdek and Francis Schmidt (125).

Jimmy Johnson (49), like Switzer, was a player and assistant coach for Broyles at Arkansas.

Other assistants for Broyles at Arkansas who went on to head coaching fame and made the list are Johnny Majors (63), Hayden Fry (91) and Jackie Sherrill (116).

Pete Carroll (37) was an Arkansas graduate assistant for Holtz in 1977. Jerry Moore (57) was a Razorbacks volunteer assistant for Ken Hatfield in 1988.

One name on the list even long-time football fans in Arkansas may not recognize is Warren Woodson. He had a 40-8-3 record from 1935-40 at the University of Central Arkansas when it was known as Arkansas State Teachers College.

If Woodson is a relative unkown, Bryant is arguably the most famous college football coach ever.

“Coach Bryant was an icon,” said Houston Nutt, the former Arkansas coach who as a star quarterback at Little Rock Central in 1975 and was recruited by Bryant. “You put him on the top of the world as a football coach.”

Campbell, who completed his coaching career at Sheridan High School in 2016, began it in 1973 as a graduate assistant at Alabama for Bryant. He was promoted to a full-time assistant for the Crimson Tide in 1975-76 and returned for a second stint at Alabama in 1980-84.

“Coach Bryant was an amazing person,” Campbell said. “When he walked into a staff meeting, there was immediate silence. Same thing when he walked into a room for a team meeting.

“I mean, at that point in his career, he just commanded that kind of respect. He was all business. In the staff meeting he didn’t ever sit back and tell a joke or two. He was to the point.

“I think he had such a strong will to win and a strong will to demand the best from his coaches and his players. He was just very focused on what he was doing. He believed in what he was doing, and he was able to communicate that to the players and the coaches.”

Bryant died on Jan 26, 1983. at age 69 from a heart attack. It was just a month after he had retired from coaching with Alabama’s 21-15 victory over Illinois in the Liberty Bowl.

“Coach Bryant coached as long as he could,” Campbell said. “He obviously knew he was dying, because a month after he retired, he died. But he stayed in it to the very end.”

Switzer built Oklahoma into a powerhouse with the Wishbone offense and dominating defenses.

“Hey, Barry knew what it took to win — great players,” said Harold Horton, an Arkansas player, assistant coach and administrator. “I think his greatest asset was his ability to recruit.

“No one was a better recruiter than Barry Switzer. He was such a people personality. Very liable on and off the field. Any time you were recruiting someone Oklahoma was after, too, you knew you had your work cut out for you.”

Among the top recruits in Arkansas that Switzer signed were Keith Jackson, Mark Hutson, Curtice Williams and Eric Mitchel.

“Certainly Barry developed a program that was second to none,” said Ken Hatfield, a star defenseive back and punt returner at Arkansas who had a 55-17-1 record as the Razorbacks’ coach from 1984-89. “As a recruiter, I think Barry could go in and make himself at home whatever environment he was in. He could prop his feet up on the table and eat second and third helpings of dinner, whatever it took. He was very persistent in everything he did.”

McClendon — nicknamed “Cholly Mac” — led LSU teams that made 13 bowl appearances and nine teams finished in the top 20 of The Associated Press poll. But he won just one SEC championship — in 1970 — because he was in the same conference as Bryant, for whom he played for at Kentucky after transferring from SAU.

McClendon’s Tigers were 2-14 against Alabama when the teams began playing annually in 1964.

“Coach Bryant and Charlie McClendon were really close friends,” Campbell said. “But Coach Bryant was still going to beat his friends.”

Holtz, who was Broyles’ hand-picked successor as Arkansas’ coach, capped his debut season in 1977 with a 31-6 upset to Switzer’s Sooners in the Orange Bowl to finish 11-1 and No. 3 in the nation.

“Lou handled the offense, and he coached the quarterbacks tougher and harder than any position,” said Horton, an assistant coach for Broyles and Holtz. “But he left us alone on the defensive side of the football.”

Holtz had an overall record of 249-132-7 at William & Mary, North Carolina State, Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame and South Carolina and won a national championship with the Fighting Irish in 1988.

At Arkansas, Holtz was 60-21-2 before resigning under pressure after a 6-5 season in 1983. He was 30-5-1 his first three seasons, then 23-11-1 the last three.

“Recruiting was not Lou’s strong suit,” Horton said. “But coaching and motivating, that he could do as well as anyone.”

Nutt was Broyles’ last recruit at Arkansas, then he played for Holtz before transferring to Oklahoma State — where he played for Johnson.

“In my book, I’d put Lou Holtz in the top 10 on a list of greatest coaches,” Nutt said. “He was a tremendous teacher and motivator. He held you accountable.”

Nutt credited Holtz for allowing him to return to Arkansas as a graduate assistant in 1983.

“I learned a tremendous amount from Coach Holtz,” Nutt said. “He used to say to the coaches, ‘Don’t ever say it’s the player’s fault. It’s the coach’s fault. You’re teaching him, you’re coaching him.’ That really stuck in my mind.”

Carroll, now in the NFL as Seattle’s coach, had an 83-18 record at USC from 2001-09. As an Arkansas graduate assistant, he helped coach the defensive backs.

“Pete was a rolling ball of butcher knives,” Larry Beightol, Arkansas’ offensive line coach at the time, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before Carroll’s Seahawks beat Denver to cap in the Super Bowl to cap the 2013 season. “He had so much enthusiasm that we had to tone him down just a little bit. He was driving Lou Holtz crazy.

“But I always thought Pete was going to be a terrific head coach. I think his knowledge, his enthusiasm and his ability to get through to players is the big thing with Pete.”

Broyles led the Razorbacks to a 144-58-5 record in 19 seasons from 1958-76 before stepping down as coach to focus on being athletic director. The Razorbacks won a share of the 1964 national championship — along with Bryant’s Tide — and won outright or shared seven Southwest Conference titles.

“It was his organizational and his motivational skills,” Campbell, who played for Broyles, said of his greatest assists. “As a head coach, he was a CEO back before it was worded that way as far as how he handled his staff.”

Horton, who played and coached for Broyles, said Broyles was strong on coaching the fundamentals.

“If we lost a game, he’d come in that meeting room on Sunday and his first statement would be, ‘We’re going to cut back. I don’t care if we have but two plays to the right or two plays to the left and a pass off of those plays. We’re going to cut back because we’ve got to get better execution,’ ” Horton said.

“He coached the coaches, and if were struggling at a certain position, that’s where he’d be. He was always going to be where the problem was working to get it resolved. So one thing you tried to do as an assistant coach was keep him out of your meeting room.”

Johnson was Arkansas’ defensive coordinator from 1973-76 and helped Broyles win his last SWC title in 1975.

“Jimmy was an enthusiastic coach,” Horton said. “That’s the reason he was called, ‘Jimmy Jump Up.’ That became his nickname.

“Jimmy was smart, too. He could come up with an alignment that would slow you down or stop you. I remember one year against Texas, right before the game, here comes Jimmy and he said, ‘We’re going to do this,’ and we hadn’t even practiced it.

“But he’d come up with a thought, and it worked. It helped slow Earl Campbell down. He came up with schemes that you might not have seen before.”

Johnson led Miami to a 52-9 record from 1984-88, then went to the NFL as Dallas’ coach when he was hired by former Arkansas teammate Jerry Jones. Johnson led the Cowboys to two Super Bowl titles.

“Jimmy Johnson lifted everybody up,” Nutt said. “He coached attitude, effort and passion.”

Moore was working in private business after being fired as Texas Tech’s coach when Hatfield called him to ask about a young coach who had been recommended to him.

“Jerry said, ‘I might be interested in coming back into coaching,’ ” Hatfield said. “I said, ‘Jerry, all I’ve got is a volunteer position.’ He said, ‘That’s OK, I’m itching to get back into it.’ I said, ‘We’d love to have you.’ ”

Moore was a volunteer assistant for Arkansas’ 1988 SWC champion team, then became head coach at Appalachian State, where he had a 215- 87 record from 1989-2012 and won three consecutive FCS national titles from 2005-07.

In one of the biggest upsets in college football history, Appalachian State beat Michigan 34-32 to open the 2007 season.

“Jerry was able to take that player who might be 2 inches too short or a few pounds light for a lot of the big schools, and he got a whole team of those guys to buy in and play good football with a chip on their shoulders,” Hatfield said. “His teams played up to their abilities every week, which is tribute to him.”

Ford, who won the 1981 national championship at Clemson and played at Alabama for Bryant, led Arkansas to its first SEC West title in 1995. He was fired at Arkansas after going 4-7 in 1996 and 1997 and had a 26-30-1 record in five seasons, but left Nutt with a talented team that won a share of the 1998 SEC West title.

“Danny was like Coach Bryant in that his approach was he wanted you to be tough,” said Campbell, who coached with Ford at Arkansas. “He liked to recruit. He’d go anywhere at anytime and to see a recruit and he watched a lot of film.

“He recruited the group of offensive linemen and he made them into one tough group [for the 1998 team]. Then Coach Nutt took that group and did well with them, but Danny was the one that gave them the nuts and bolts of what it was to be tough, hard-nosed football player.”

Majors, a Razorbacks’ assistant from 1964-67, led Pittsburgh to the 1976 national championship and had 116-62-8 record at Tennessee, his alma mater.

Fry, an Arkansas assistant in 1961, was 143-81-6 at Iowa from 1979-98 and won three Big Ten championships.

Sherrill, a graduate assistant coach at Arkansas in 1967 who played for Bear Bryant at Alabama, had a 180-120 record in 26 seasons at Washington State, Pittsburgh, Texas A&M and Mississippi State.

Broyles became so well known for turning out head coaches that former Razorbacks linebacker David Bazzel created the Broyles Award, which since 1996 has been awarded to the nation’s top assistant coach.

“Coach Broyles understood what a unique place Arkansas is being the only major school in the state and having no professional teams to compete with,” Hatfield said. “That helped him attract some of the top assistant coaches in the country, and they knew if they worked hard and did a good job, they had a good chance of being a head coach.”

Bezdek and Schmidt were among the top college coaches in the early years of the sport.

Schmidt coached the Arkansas football team to a 42-20-3 record from 1923-29 and also coached the basketball and baseball teams. Including other stops as a football coach at Tulsa, TCU, Ohio State and Idaho, he had a 156-58-11 record from 1919-41.

When Bezdek became Arkansas’ first full-time football coach in 1908, the team was nicknamed the “Cardinals.”

Bezek, who had 29-13-1 record in five seasons at Arkansas, created a new nickname when his team returned to Fayetteville after beating LSU 16-0 in 1909.

At a pep rally, Bezdek told Arkansas students that his team had played “like a wild band of razorback hogs.”

Arkansas became known as the Razorbacks and the nickname stuck.

“When you look at all the top football coaches associated with Arkansas, it’s more like a list you might expect from a bigger state like Texas or California,” Campbell said. “As an Arkansan, it’s something that should really make us all proud.”

Arkansas' Sweet 15

The state of Arkansas is well represented among ESPN’s list of 150 greatest football coaches of all time, which was produced to celebrate the sport’s 150th anniversary in 2019.

The list was selected by a blue-ribbon panel of 150 media members, administrators and former players and coaches, according to ESPN, and 15 coaches who have ties to Arkansas made the list.

Having 10% of the list include someone from Arkansas, or coached or played at the University of Arkansas or coached at the University of Central Arkansas is pretty impressive for a state that ranks 32nd nationally in population as of 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The state of Arkansas also has the No. 1 coach on the list.

PAUL “BEAR” BRYANT (1): The Bear, who was born in Moro Bottom (Cleveland County) and grew up in Fordyce, compiled a 323-85-17 record in 38 seasons at Maryland, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama. He led Alabama — his alma mater — to a 232-46-9 record from 1958-82 and won six national championships and 14 SEC titles.

BARRY SWITZER (13): A Crossett native who was an Arkansas player and assistant coach, Switzer went on to fame as the coach at Oklahoma. He led the Sooners to a 157-29-4 record from 1973-88 and won three national championships. Switzer later won a Super Bowl as coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

LOU HOLTZ (23): Holtz was Frank Broyles’ hand-picked successor at Arkansas, and he debuted with an 11-1 record in 1977, capped by a 31-6 victory over Oklahoma and Barry Switzer in the Orange Bowl. He had a 60-21-2 record in seven seasons at Arkansas and won a national championship at Notre Dame in 1988.

PETE CARROLL (37): A graduate assistant at Arkansas in 1977, Carroll led USC to an 83-18 record from 2001-09. He won national championships with the Trojans in 2004 and 2005 and didn’t take it easy on the Razorbacks, beating Arkansas 70-17 in 2005 and 50-14 in 2006. He also won a Super Bowl title with Seattle.

FRANK BROYLES (40): Broyles could have been higher on the list, but he retired from coaching at 51 to focus on being Arkansas’ athletic director after leading the Razorbacks to a 144-58-5 record from 1958-76, including a share of the 1964 national title. The Broyles Award for the top assistant coach in the country is named in his honor.

JIMMY JOHNSON (49): Johnson was a nose guard on Arkansas’ 1964 national championship team and later a defensive assistant for the Razorbacks. He led Miami to a 52-9 record from 1984-88 and then was hired as Dallas’ coach by former Arkansas teammate Jerry Jones, leading the Cowboys to two Super Bowl titles.

JERRY MOORE (57): After being fired at Texas Tech and working in business, Moore became a volunteer assistant coach for Arkansas in 1988. He got another shot as a head coach and led Appalachian State to a 215- 87 record from 1989-2012 and won three consecutive FCS national titles from 2005-07.

JOHNNY MAJORS (62): An Arkansas assistant coach from 1964-67, Majors won a national championship at Pittsburgh in 1976 and then returned to Tennessee — his alma mater — and went 116-62-8 with the Vols. Arkansas’ 25-24 upset victory over No. 4 Tennessee in 1992 was the beginning of the end for Majors’ tenure in Knoxville.

DANNY FORD (73): Ford had a 26-30-1 record in five seasons at Arkansas from 1993-97, but he led the Razorbacks to their first SEC West title in 1995 and recruited the team that won a share of the division again in 1998 under Coach Houston Nutt. He won the 1981 national championship at Clemson.

HAYDEN FRY (91): An Arkansas assistant in 1961, Fry turned Iowa into a nationally prominent program with a 143-81-6 record from 1979-98. He led the Hawkeyes to three Big Ten championships. Thirteen of his assistants became FBS coaches, including Bret Bielema, who led Wisconsin to three Big Ten titles and coached at Arkansas from 2013-17.

CHARLIE McCLENDON (96): A Lewisville (Lafayette County) native, McClendon — nicknamed “Cholly Mac” — led LSU to a 137-59-7 record from 1962-79. His teams played in 13 bowl games and had nine top 20 finishes in the AP poll. He won just one SEC title, in 1970, because he coached against Bear Bryant, for whom he played at Kentucky.

WARREN WOODSON (108): Woodson probably isn’t a name familiar to most fans, but he led Central Arkansas to a 40-8-3 record from 1935-40. UCA was known as Arkansas State Teachers College when he coached the Bears. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989 with a 203-95-14 career record, including stops at Hardin-Simmons, Arizona, New Mexico State and Trinity.

JACKIE SHERRILL (116): A graduate assistant coach at Arkansas in 1967 who played for Bear Bryant at Alabama, Sherrill had a 180-120 record in 26 seasons at Washington State, Pittsburgh, Texas A&M and Mississippi State. He replaced Johnny Majors at Pitt in 1977 and led the Panthers to three consecutive 11-1 seasons from 1979-81.

HUGO BEZDEK (120): Bezdek was Arkansas’ first full-time football coach and led the team known as “the Cardinals” when he took the job to a 29-13-1 record from 1908-12. He’s credited with coming up with the nickname “Razorbacks” after Arkansas’ 16-0 victory over LSU in 1909 when he told students his team played “like a wild band of razorback hogs.” He had a 124-53-16 career record including stops at Oregon and Penn State.

FRANCIS SCHMIDT (125): Schmidt was a man for all seasons at Arkansas. He coached the UA football team to a 42-20-3 record from 1923-29, the basketball team to 113-22 record from 1924-30 and the baseball team to a 38-64 record 1923-29. His career record as a football coach at Tulsa, Arkansas, TCU, Ohio State and Idaho from 1919-41 was 156-58-11.


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