#TGW: Remembering Frank Broyles

Aug. 15, 2017

Jon Cooper | The Good Word

Some people just have a knack for being able to lead.

Frank Broyles was one of those people.

John Franklin Broyles, a Decatur, Ga. native who passed away at age 92 on Monday due to complications from Alzheimer’s, even led the leaders.

“He had a way of saying things that would make you sit up straight in your chair if you were sitting down. You just listened to him,” said Dr. Homer Rice, a longtime friend of Broyles, and someone who certainly can identify with what it takes to be a leader. “He just had that charisma about him and just that `Frank Broyles style.’ He was so good at talking to any group. He had your attention.”

Broyles left a legacy of capturing and holding people’s attention and leading them to victory. He was a three-sport student-athlete at Georgia Tech, playing football, basketball and baseball from 1943-46 (his time was interrupted from 1945 until the spring of 1946, as he fought with the Navy in World War II). Upon his graduation from Tech, he began a legendary career as a football coach, first as an assistant at Baylor, Florida and his alma mater, where he served as offensive coordinator under Bobby Dodd from 1951-56, then as head coach at Missouri (1957) and, most famously, Arkansas (1958-76). He was also the athletics director at Arkansas for 34 years (1974-2007) and even served as a television analyst for college football broadcasts on ABC.

“He could deal with people,” said Rice, was athletics director at three schools — North Carolina (1969-75), Rice (`76-77) and Georgia Tech (`80-97) — during Broyles’ tenure as AD at Arkansas. “At our NCAA meetings, he would champion a cause and always be good at that. Frank wanted to be the best and do the best.”

“He was a great leader. He was extremely cordial to everyone and he was one of the most hospitable people I’ve ever known,” said Georgia Tech senior associate A.D. Jack Thompson. “He walked tall, I’ll put it that way.”

After playing three sports at Decatur H.S., Broyles came to Georgia Tech, where he’d do the same.

He was three-time all-SEC (twice first-team) and second-team All-America on the gridiron, playing for William Alexander and Bobby Dodd. He was also a first-team all-SEC guard on the basketball court and was respected enough to be Tech’s captain for one season on the baseball diamond.

While he excelled on all three fields, his greatest heroics came in football. Broyles still holds a piece of Georgia Tech records for longest touchdown and longest interception return (100 yards) and ranks in the top 10 for most touchdown passes in a game (4, t-3rd) and in a season (15, t-9th) and career (21, t-10th). In 1945, he set an Orange Bowl record with 304 passing yards in a losing effort against Tulsa, a mark that stood until Michigan’s Tom Brady broke it with 369 yards in 2004.

“He could have played in any professional sport — football, basketball, baseball, any one,” said Rice. “He was just that type of athlete.”

He proved that by being selected by the Chicago Bears in the third round of the 1946 NFL Draft and by the Toronto Huskies in the 1947 NBA Draft — becoming him the Yellow Jackets’ first-ever NBA Draft pick in the process.

But Broyles would do his best work as a coach. After short his stints at Baylor and Florida, he came back to The Flats, where Dodd was more than happy to put him on his staff.

Broyles made quite an impact during his six-year stint coaching Tech’s offensive backfield, highlighted by helping lead the Yellow Jackets to a 33-game unbeaten streak that included an 11-0-1 campaign in 1951 and a school-record 12-0 mark and the third of the school’s four national championships in 1952. The Yellow Jackets played in six-straight bowl games with Broyles on staff — the 1951 Orange, 1952 and ’53 Sugar, 1954 Cotton, 1955 Sugar and 1956 Gator.

“Coach Dodd often said that without Frank Broyles, he would not have been able to achieve everything that he achieved,” said Thompson, who coached under Dodd for seven seasons, but never with Broyles. “He admired Coach Broyles so much. I know that he was a tremendous advocate all the way for Frank. He spoke of him often and with tremendous admiration.”

Broyles left to take over as head coach at Missouri for one season then left for Arkansas, where he would ascend to legendary status. He’d be on the Razorbacks’ sideline for 19 years, leading the Hogs to their first national championship in 1964 and creating an epic rivalry with Texas and Coach Darrell Royal. He became Arkansas’ athletic director in 1974 and wouldn’t leave until he retired in 2007. Under his tenure as A.D., the Razorbacks won 43 national titles.

Broyles, who as Arkansas A.D. was instrumental behind the scenes in expanding NCAA football, literally would speak up and be a big a part in the explosion of televised college football, as, from 1977-85, he was the color analyst alongside play-by-play announcer Keith Jackson on ABC’s top broadcasting team.

“He was one of the best in the business,” said Rice. “His TV [announcing], he was one of the great ones for that. Whatever he did, he did it the best and people responded.”

In 2006, Broyles found a different and far more serious passion, putting his energy into fighting Alzheimer’s, which took the life of his first wife, Barbara Day. He established the Barbara Broyles Legacy, now known as the Frank & Barbara Broyles Legacy Foundation. He also created a guide for future caregivers for Alzheimer’s patients, based on his experiences caring for Barbara..

“When his first wife passed away with Alzheimer’s, he decided to do something about it,” said Rice, who recalls putting the book to use when his own wife dealt with the illness. “He put it together just like you’d put a football playbook together and it was sent all over the country. Here in Atlanta, for Emory, [his foundation] providing funds for their program to fight this terrible disease. His daughter, who kept everything going, is still in charge of that foundation.”

While Broyles never left Arkansas, Georgia Tech always held a spot in his heart.

“He loved Georgia Tech,” Thompson said of the 1960 GT Sports Hall of Fame inductee. “He came back here for several speaking engagements. I got to spend time with him. I would say he was one of the most admired players at Georgia Tech and one of the most admired assistant coaches under Coach Bobby Dodd.”

The fans certainly never stopped loving him.

“A good friend of his in Atlanta offered him $1 million if he’d come back and coach Georgia Tech. He was faithful to his Arkansas teams and people there and didn’t accept it,” Rice recalled, with a laugh. “He has done a lot for a lot of people in many ways. He will be missed.”

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