Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


The hurried retirement of Frank Broyles, Athletic Director for Life, was as near an epochal event as we are apt to have in Razorback Nation. Many dreaded and many yearned for the day, but none probably found the spectacle at Fayetteville Saturday very satisfying.

Razorback fans who thought that he meddled needlessly and corrupted the program doubtlessly are nettled that he was allowed to announce his leavetaking on his own terms and then to stay on until the end of the year, the 50th anniversary of his arrival as the head football coach.

Those who believe that he incomparably managed the growth of the athletic program into one of the nation’s most prestigious are depressed that he was forced to retire at all and particularly with only a little of the graciousness that the great man was owed. The chancellor and others insisted that it was Broyles’ decision alone to retire, but it was widely known that the Board of Trustees early in the week had lined up 8 to 2 behind his leaving. They wanted him to retire rather than force a vote for an involuntary leaving. Whatever one thinks of Broyles’ recent stewardship or of the overweening importance of athletics under his guidance, he deserved that courtesy. Worthy or not, his is an unmatched success story.

It was precisely that phenomenal success, the rise of four men’s sports to the top ranks in the country, that brought him down. His firing — nominally the university’s firing — of the most successful major-sport coach in the state’s history over personal antagonisms resulted in a sharp decline in the prestige of the basketball program. Deserving or not, northwest Arkansas boosters also blamed him for the messy departure of an assistant coach and two star recruits in the football program and for the resulting hard luck in recruiting a new class of elite players.

Nothing in a decade has roiled life in this little state like the great quarterback rhubarb. It brought down the indestructible Frank Broyles. And to think, it’s only a game. Let us trust that Frank’s last good deed was to put an end to it so that we can focus on less obligatory matters, like saving education and avoiding a pillage of the state treasury.