FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Frank Broyles embodied all things Razorbacks.
During his more than 55 years working at the University of Arkansas in some capacity, he became an icon within the state and across the country.
The legacy of Broyles, the legendary Razorbacks football coach and athletic director who died Monday at age 92, will live on in myriad ways. One of the notable platforms through which his memory will be preserved is the prestigious award bearing his name. The Broyles Award, entering its 22nd year, is given annually to the top assistant coach in college football.
Recognizing importance of assistant coaches
Broyles took the award seriously. He wasn’t simply a name on the front of a trophy. He was active in selecting finalists, enjoyed meeting the nominees, and always attended the presentation ceremony until his health deteriorated over the past year.
His responsible approach toward the award almost wiped out its existence in the early stages.
David Bazzel, the former Arkansas linebacker and well-known media figure in Little Rock, was exploring possible projects related to the state’s sports legacy in the mid-1990s when the idea for the award was born. Bazzel reviewed Broyles’ list of assistant coaches through the years, recalling names such as Hayden Fry, Joe Gibbs, Jimmy Johnson, Johnny Majors and Barry Switzer. Broyles seemed to be the perfect figurehead to help raise the profile of the best unheralded coaches in the country.
A major obstacle, however, was convincing Broyles himself. Bazzel reached out to him and a meeting was set up in Fayetteville to make the sales pitch.
“I get up there and he has Wilson Matthews, his legendary assistant, with him and they grilled me pretty good,” Bazzel told SEC Country in a phone interview Monday.
“They made that a tough conversation. I knew why they were doing it. If he was going to agree to do it, he was going to make sure I had done my homework. So, I sort of felt that was great they cared enough to really press it.”
Bazzel passed the test. He secured funding and described his vision to make the presentation ceremony the first-class event it is today. Broyles agreed, enthralled by the idea of creating an avenue to recognize the contributions of assistant coaches. During his coaching career, he always advocated for his assistants — even if that meant leaving his staff for better opportunities elsewhere.
“He was the first guy who really promoted the assistant coach,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said in a Broyles Award statement Monday. “He’s one of the great visionaries in college football history. What he did for college football, not only Arkansas football, but what he did for college football, will sorely be missed. We lost one of our true giants in this game.”
Eye for talent
The Broyles Award has done wonders for assistants hoping to move to the next level. Among the 122 coaches who have been named finalists over the years, 45 have become head coaches, Bazzel said.
Salaries for assistants have also increased dramatically since the inception of the award. When the award was conceived, top coordinators earned approximately $100,000-$150,000 annually. Today, more than 20 assistants across the country make at least $850,000 a year. It’s impossible to say if those figures directly correlate, but the Broyles Award undoubtedly has raised the profile of many recipients.
“All assistant coaches strive for this award because it is emblematic of both the passion and character of the man for whom it is named,” said Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who won the award in 2016.
Seven of the past nine Broyles Award winners went on to become head coaches within six years of winning the honor. Five are still active head coaches.
“I think the award has grown enough in stature that if you’re a finalist, you get the attention of athletic directors,” Bazzel said. “I think [Broyles] was real proud of the fact that you look at guys like Tom Herman, Lincoln Riley and Pat Narduzzi, all have become head coaches. I think what we talked about 22 years ago has come to fruition. I think he was always proud of that.”
The longtime lieutenant
Shortly after Broyles gave Bazzel permission to use his name, Bazzel asked which former assistant should be featured as the trophy’s key figure alongside Broyles.
“He could’ve picked Jimmy Johnson or Joe Gibbs, Hayden Fry, Johnny Majors, all of those,” Bazzel said. “But he picked Wilson Matthews immediately, which I felt was sort of a neat deal. Even though Wilson was never a NFL or college football head coach, he was a successful high school coach that was a key component for Coach Broyles.”
Matthews was a successful head coach at Little Rock High School (1947-57). He coached defensive ends under Broyles during his first 10 years at Arkansas (1958-1968). He coached two All-Americans and eight All-Southwest Conference selections with the Razorbacks.
Following his coaching career, Matthews served as an athletic administrator at Arkansas. He worked in an official capacity with Broyles for a total of 34 years.
Portraying Matthews on the trophy was about giving proper recognition to an assistant that Broyles felt deserved it. That was always important to him throughout his career, and through the Broyles Award, it will continue long after his passing.