Legendary Arkansas icon's run nears finish line

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- There is no computer.

That's the one thing missing from Frank Broyles' office, which sits in the Broyles Athletic Center, which looks out on the football stadium Frank Broyles expanded, which is the largest in an archipelago of dazzling sports facilities Frank Broyles made possible along Razorback Road.

The office is suitably grand, from the dark wood paneling to the graceful antique of an athletic director sitting behind the desk. The room is almost long enough for its inhabitant to sharpen his short-game skills for trips to Augusta National, where he is a member, but it is not equipped for surfing.

"I'm untrained," Broyles says, in his courtly drawl, "to the Internet."

It does not compute for the head of a multimillion-dollar enterprise like University of Arkansas athletics to have no computer, but the 82-year-old Broyles is from a different time.

He is from a pre-blogospheric time when communication meant doing things face to face, and he has the combination of velvety charm and steely directness to prove it. He is from a time when Razorback Nation was among the most unified border-to-border fan bases in all of college sports, not a place fractured by a vigilante fan revolt engulfing the football coach and the hotshot ex-quarterback. He is from a time when one man could hold an entire state in thrall for half a century and never wear out his welcome.

Times have changed.

A thoroughly modern melodrama -- brimming with vicious e-mails, controversial text messages and anonymous assaults from cyberspace -- has helped push an old-school icon out the door and threatens to smudge his sterling legacy on the way.

"Frank Broyles is the best," football coach Houston Nutt volunteers, without being asked. "He's the best athletic director because he understands what a coach needs. And he's a dying breed, and that's what upsets you the most. That they had a lot to do with his decision of standing down. …

"It bothers me. It bothers me a bunch. I don't think it will ever diminish -- his accomplishments overshadow everything that's going to happen. This little stuff won't affect what he's done. This building will still have his name on it. The tradition, the caring of his athletes, that's going to keep going. His legacy will be phenomenal. But what hurts is to think that he stepped down because he thought this was the time to do it. I just wish things would have been different."

No one has had an impact on Arkansas equal to Frank Broyles. No one. He had the ability and talent to be a governor or senator, and he chose to spend his life with us.

Jim Lindsey, Arkansas trustee and player on Broyles' 1964 national title team

Given pending litigation, Nutt isn't naming names when talking about the "they" he believes helped end an era never to be seen again in college sports. University chancellor John A. White and system president B. Alan Sugg have been sued by a fan who claims the school did not adequately investigate scathing e-mails sent by a booster close to Nutt to then-freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain. The school's lawyers sought May 18 to have the suit dismissed, calling it "nothing more than Monday-morning quarterbacking by a disgruntled fan."

But Nutt clearly sees "them" as being within Arkansas' state lines, where Frank Broyles has been entrenched since the Eisenhower Administration. With former Springdale High School superstar recruit Mustain and his touted teammate, receiver Damian Williams, having transferred to USC -- and their old high school coach, Gus Malzahn, also gone after one acrimonious year as the Razorbacks' offensive coordinator -- blame for the failed dream marriage has been flying in all directions.

Much of it has splashed on Nutt, who is as embattled as any coach in history coming off a 10-win season. And some of it has splashed upon the previously untouchable Broyles, who is now seen by many fans as out of touch, overly protective of his football coach and vainly incapable of relinquishing control of all things Razorback.

Broyles will not engage in extended self-defense -- though he acknowledged that some of his family members did seek to post rebuttal information on an Arkansas fan message board. When asked about the 21st-century phenomenon of message-board mayhem and online "investigative" stories without bylines, Broyles is sympathetic toward Nutt -- who has faced allegations of marital infidelity as a byproduct of the fan revolt -- and disdainful toward the critics. Mostly he seems mystified at how this unruly new reality came to be.

"We had to ask some people, 'If it's on the Internet and it's an outright lie, what do you do? Do you respond or not respond?'" Broyles said. "I don't know what I would do, or how I would react, to someone who doesn't buy tickets, who is 25 years old, putting out smear. I never try to hurt anybody else, but I have seen the opposite of that."

This is the other side of being the only game in town -- the only game in an entire state. Everything Hog-related is magnified beyond proper perspective -- hero or bum status included. At what should be the golden twilight of his career, Frank Broyles now knows both.

He will not acknowledge that the controversy which soured Arkansas' surprising football season played any part in his Feb. 17 decision to retire, effective Dec. 31, 2007. Nor that any faction of boosters or trustees forced his hand.

"My family felt like 50 years in a leadership role was enough," Broyles says. "They felt like [stepping down] was a good thing to consider."

Said Jim Lindsey, a player on Broyles' 1964 national championship football team, Arkansas real estate titan and school trustee: "The mood of the public out there was maybe sooner is better than later, but he did this on his own terms."

Chancellor White agreed that the decision belonged to Broyles, but said the stress of dealing with the constant football-related turmoil was wearing on the octogenarian face of the program. Broyles built the football program to national prominence as its coach from 1958 through '76. It was his baby.

Watching warring factions split the baby in half tore him up.

"I regret that," says White, who has been chancellor since 1997. "I think that the stresses in the job, this last year in particular, have been greater than certainly any other point during my tenure, and I think contributed greatly to his decision with his family. …

"[Broyles' family] really saw it was taking a toll, all the things going on. He had heart difficulty, he had difficulty sleeping, and he was having a real tough time with it.

"I thought about, 'Should I try to prolong, delay, dissuade?' I decided I would not be able to look Gen [Broyles' wife] in the eye if the stresses caused him to die on the job."

So it was time to quit, before the thing Frank Broyles loves most -- Arkansas athletics -- killed him.

But Broyles gave himself nearly a full year in office before stepping down, and he had no intention of turning it into a lame duck's extended farewell tour. In the new era of CEO athletic administration, Broyles is not deviating from his hands-on, autocratic approach. That has generated more controversy on the long ride into the sunset.

That career-long penchant for involving himself was manifested again last year, when some people think Broyles all but hired Malzahn as Nutt's first offensive coordinator. It surfaced again when Broyles met with the parents of the Springdale players and listened to their gripes about Nutt (though he told them the coach has the ultimate authority). And it surfaced at the end of the basketball season.

Little more than a month after announcing his retirement, Broyles fired coach Stan Heath. The botched search to replace him, which seemed to last 10 years, was, by any measure, an embarrassment.

The A-list candidates washed out. Creighton coach Dana Altman accepted the job, but left the Razorbacks after one day. Desperate and humiliated, Arkansas finally hired a search firm which quickly delivered South Alabama coach John Pelphrey. While Pelphrey might ultimately be a great choice, he was no better than the seventh choice and doesn't fit Broyles' stated goal of hiring an established guy with a track record of winning at the highest level.

So this is the jumbled scene as we move toward Broyles' final act, and into the uncertainty beyond.

His famously supportive fan base is divided and displeased. His football coach of the past 10 years has a Heisman Trophy candidate in the backfield and a target on his back. His young basketball coach inherits a job greatly diminished from the glory days of the mid-90s.

And then it will be time for White to select the man who will fill the biggest shoes in Arkansas.

Some view 1958 as a turning point in the state -- when Arkansas began to recover from the violent protest a year earlier of school integration in Little Rock, and the year Broyles arrived in Fayetteville. Lindsey, for one, believes those two events helped shape a new reputation, new mentality and new self-image in a state often derided as backward, benighted and hopelessly hillbilly.

White, who was a student at Arkansas in '58, sees some of the same things.

"There had developed this sort of inferiority complex," he says.

That and many other things have changed on Frank Broyles' watch:

• Athletic integration. Broyles was the first to play African-American football players, both at Missouri (in 1957) and at Arkansas (in 1970).

• Conference expansion and realignment. Broyles masterminded the Razorbacks' prescient jump from a crumbling Southwest Conference to the superpower Southeastern Conference.

• The explosion of revenues and expenditures as athletic departments became their own fiefdoms. Arkansas' athletic budget was $900,000 when Broyles took over and today it is $44 million.

• The rise of the superstar coach. Some huge names in college sports have called Broyles boss: Lou Holtz, Nolan Richardson, Eddie Sutton, Ken Hatfield, Danny Ford among them. But none of them was as big as the Head Hog.

• The nationwide facilities arms race. Arkansas is among the national leaders in that category, as Broyles himself made an impressive transition from coach to savvy businessman and uncanny fund-raiser.

Broyles will remain in that capacity with the Razorback Foundation payroll until he is 90. Gets a raise, even. But the godfather of the Hogs will give up the power he's steadily consolidated over five decades.

"No one has had an impact on Arkansas equal to Frank Broyles," Lindsey says. "No one. He had the ability and talent to be a governor or senator, and he chose to spend his life with us."

My family felt like 50 years in a leadership role was enough. They felt like [stepping down] was a good thing to consider.

Frank Broyles

Outside the front door of Lindsey's huge, glass-front office building is a bronze statue of a wild pig. You can find the porcine motif everywhere in this state, from Texarkana in the southwest to Blytheville in the northeast. Nebraska is the only other BCS-conference school that enjoys comparable border-to-border support without dilution from major college rivals or pro sports -- and quite frankly, the Razorbacks' basketball following dwarfs the Cornhuskers'.

"The thing that makes it different there, it's all you got," said Missouri assistant basketball coach Matt Zimmerman, an Arkansas native and graduate who worked under Nolan Richardson. "You can be in the other corner of the state, five hours from campus, and nine out of 10 cars have Razorback license plates or bumper stickers or flags.

"If there are three million people in the state, 2.95 million of them love the Razorbacks."

There's actually only about 2.8 million Arkansans, according to 2006 estimates published last week by USA Today. That ranks Arkansas 33rd among the 50 states in population, yet its football team ranked 20th among 119 Division I-A schools in attendance, men's basketball 12th out of 334 and baseball second nationally, according to 2006 numbers. (Arkansas officials say they lead the nation in baseball attendance this spring, highlighted by a record 29,000-plus turnstile count for a recent three-game series with LSU.)

It has been an allegiance for life for many Hog fans.

Pelphrey said that when he spoke to a Razorback Club in Little Rock two weeks ago, a 99-year-old man stood up and called the Hogs with the trademark, "Woooo, pig, sooooie!" And he brought his 96-year-old wife to the meeting, too.

Broyles said that at a recent Razorback Club outing in West Memphis, an elderly man stood up and said he escaped from a local hospital to attend the meeting and show support for Nutt.

"I fought two wars, World War II and Korea," the man announced. "The only thing that kept me going through those was the Razorbacks."

The Razorbacks have kept Broyles going, too. And going and going and going.

His 19 years and 144 victories as football coach are both Arkansas records. His 33 years as athletic director is believed to be the longest active AD tenure in NCAA Division I.

"My goal was to work until I was 92," Broyles says, with a twinkle in his eye. "I think 92 ought to be the average retirement age.

"I'll be 83 (when he steps down as AD), which is unbelievable. I don't think I'm over 60. I don't know what happened to the last 20 years."

He's trim and athletic and feeling good enough to record a hole-in-one last month at Augusta. His mind and sense of humor are sharp. His aura is ambassadorial as he recites stats, facts and figures about the boom in Razorbacks athletics on his watch.

When he moved into the AD office, the only full-time coaches were in football and men's basketball. When Arkansas jumped to the SEC, the school's athletic budget was $9 million and the facilities were lagging behind.

Today the budget is five times that amount and the Hogs' playpens are state of the art. Broyles takes pride in the fact that the new buildings were funded without strapping taxpayers, the university proper or the student body, which pays $1 admission to all Razorback sporting events and has no student athletic fees.

Broyles was the rainmaker who brought in the donations to build the new stadia -- all since he turned a normal man's retirement age of 65.

"People would say it's time for him to retire," says chancellor White. "I'd say, 'Why?'"

There is no longer a need to wonder why, or when. Frank Broyles' seemingly endless run at Arkansas is nearing the finish line. The 21st century is kicking one of the giants of 20th century college sports out the door.

Pat Forde is a national columnist for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.