Bill Vickery, a local political consultant and part-time radio host, and an avid football fan as well, had Frank Broyles cracking up with everyone else over a few jokes at Monday’s Little Rock Touchdown Club meeting at the Embassy Suites.
“Arkansas State plays at Arrowhead Stadium this Saturday,” said Vickery, whose role in the Touchdown Club meetings is to report on football happenings and add a little twist. This one was about ASU’s venture up to Kansas City Saturday to be served up to Missouri for a paycheck. “Plenty of tickets are still available.”
The room erupted to the sarcasm. Apparently there aren’t a lot of A-State fans in the 2-year-old club. Last week, when asked to show hands if there were Indian fans in the house, maybe a couple shot up among the 250 folks on hand.
Vickery also joked about which star whose greatness dates to the 1960s could draw a bigger crowd in Little Rock, Broyles or the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger.
Broyles said all the right things Monday to get a crowd of about 330 men and women excited about the coming Razorback football season. He’d obviously thought about everything he was going to say, devoting part of the talk to his crusade against Alzheimer’s disease, which claimed his wife.
He didn’t have a lot of time left to take questions, and the questions were all tame from the audience — it took club founder David Bazzel to jokingly chastise the usually opinionated crowd for the noncontroversial questions, and to ask Broyles to expound on Houston Nutt’s future.
Broyles said that Nutt’s job is safe, that he’s the best man for the job, all the usual stuff. Apparently that means there is no coach anywhere now who could win more than nine games in a season, and average more than seven wins annually, if they coached at Arkansas. During the past five years, Nutt has gone 19-22 against Southeastern Conference competition. David Cutcliffe, with a better SEC record in that span at Ole Miss, was fired after last season.
Broyles even sounded like Nutt, taking the evangelistic approach in describing the university’s many athletic and off-the-field successes, especially fund-raising, compared with Texas — which isn’t on the schedule anymore (the Horns briefly appeared the past two years) but remains the arch-rival even in his eyes.
Someone brought up recruiting and what Broyles perceived as the differences in his coaching era and today. He made one good point: He got to visit top prep prospects such as kicker Steve Little once a week if he wanted; Nutt and other head coaches get one visit total with a high school star during recruiting season.
Then, he showed his ignorance about one of the biggest changes of the 21st century: the Internet. He said that the Internet has been a huge change to recruiting, mainly in that fans can get on an Internet message board pretending to be Arkansas fans and bad-mouth the program.
Broyles completely lacks understanding in this area. For example, if he looked closer, Arkansas fans themselves have been plenty critical of Nutt and the program in recent years (this columnist included on www.Hogville.net), so the program doesn’t need someone pretending to be a fan to do that. The number of recruits who said they chose a school other than Arkansas because of something they read on the Internet totals zero. The biggest change the Internet has brought is that it’s made the “who are we recruiting” information more available to the average fan. It’s made media celebrities of such people as Otis Kirk. It’s also shown how far behind Nutt and staff are to the major powers of the Southeastern Conference.
Hogwired, the UA sports and marketing department’s own website, shows how little Broyles understands the potential of the internet. Like the football program, if not more so, Hogwired has been trying to keep up with the SEC powers since it began, but it’s regularly been viewed by Internet savvy folks as bottom of the barrel. For years the sports information department itself has been woefully underfunded compared with the teams Arkansas competes against and mostly loses to, Broyles choosing to rely more on what the daily sports pages in Little Rock could provide him.
Arkansas sits idly by while most of the other SEC teams align with a satellite radio provider to air games to the most distant of places where its fans, or someone who perhaps could become a fan, might reside. Arkansas and its exclusive broadcasting partner, ARSN, claim to be exploring options. First kickoff is Saturday. Options will be explored for quite a while longer, we figure.
Broyles denied that any talks had occurred between the UA and the Big 12 about the Hogs switching leagues, a regular rumor these days, but then he mumbled something about some SEC teams rumored to be looking at other leagues; Florida to the ACC, perhaps?
Last week, KABZ-FM, “The Buzz” sponsored, Football 101, where 250 women got to hear experts in football explain the game. The Touchdown Club has several women members well-versed in the game. Broyles, in talking about the old days, referred to Texas’ move to the Wishbone offense in the 1960s. “To the ladies, the ‘Wishbone’ is a formation,” said Broyles, who couldn’t imagine some of the football discussion he could have with a few Touchdown Club ladies, and other women, if he tried.
Broyles is a spry 80, enthusiastic as ever, and a great speaker. In light of his comments to us during contract negotiations with Nolan Richardson in 2000, and what he testified to in Richardson’s trial last year, and what he said around the Great Stadium Debate, though, we’re left now wondering what he’s really thinking.