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The Last Emperor

There will never be another AD like Arkansas's embattled Frank Broyles

AFTER A halfcentury at Arkansas, first as football coach and then as athletic director, the50th and final year of Frank Broyles's career should have been a victory lap,an extended tribute to a historic figure in college sports. After all, the82-year-old Broyles—who coached the Razorbacks to their only football nationalchampionship, in 1964—is one of the last of a dying breed in big-time collegeathletics: the emperor, the coach who rises to become the ruler of all hesurveys, a la Bear Bryant at Alabama or Darrell Royal at Texas.

But in hisfarewell year (in February Broyles announced his retirement as AD, effectiveDec. 31), the man the Arkansas faithful once dubbed the Hogfather has seen moretrauma than tribute. He awkwardly—and ineffectively—tried to calm the turmoilin the football program, in which the offensive coordinator and two prizedrecruits left after clashing with a coach whose character has recently beenquestioned. More recently Broyles led a bungled search for a basketball coachthat saw a backup candidate take the job only to give it up the next day.

The reaction ofHog Nation has underscored how drastically times have changed since Broyles'sheyday. Dissatisfied fans and boosters don't just grumble down at the localdiner or barbershop anymore. Instead they take their beefs to cyberspace,sometimes after energetically digging for dirt. One enterprising fan went sofar as to post a 48-page report detailing what he claims is an analysis offootball coach Houston Nutt's cellphone records (acquired under the Freedom ofInformation Act), fueling gossip about Nutt's personal life and suggesting thathe was talking to Miami about their coaching vacancy.

But Broyles hasbeen the main target. He's often grilled on message boards for being out oftouch, and last week rumors swirled that Broyles, a member of Augusta National,was so intent on attending the Masters last weekend that he rushed through thebasketball search. (Broyles, who declined to comment for this article, did notattend the Masters.) "With the rise of blogs and message boards and radiotalk shows, the pressure on coaches and athletic directors is just incredible,very different from what it was even a few years ago," says Arkansaschancellor John White. "I would think that played a role in Frank'sdecision to step down."

The footballcontroversy was the beginning of the end for Broyles. After two losing seasonsNutt came under pressure from fans to hire an offensive coordinator. He pickedGus Malzahn, the highly successful coach at Springdale (Ark.) High. SeveralSpringdale recruits, including quarterback Mitch Mustain and receiver DamianWilliams, followed. But there was acrimony almost from the start. Nutt had ahard time letting go of the offense, leading to a power struggle with Malzahn,who left after the season to become offensive coordinator at Tulsa. And Mustainwas benched for lack of production even though the Razorbacks won sevenstraight games with him under center. In December the parents of three formerSpringdale players, including Mustain, met with Broyles to discuss the footballprogram. Though Broyles reportedly supported Nutt's authority, merely agreeingto the meeting reinforced Broyles's reputation as a former coach who couldn'tresist meddling.

The unrest spreadto the basketball program after Broyles fired Stan Heath on March 26, despitetwo consecutive 20-win seasons and NCAA tournament appearances. "Stan'sfiring is indicative that Frank Broyles doesn't have any idea what he'sdoing," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said when the move was announced. Theassumption was that Broyles planned to hire Texas A&M coach BillyGillispie, but when Gillispie turned down Arkansas, the Razorbacks were at aloss. Broyles eventually settled on Creighton's Dana Altman after a whirlwind,48-hour courtship, but after being introduced Altman changed his mind, citingfamily concerns. The embarrassment spurred the school to take the search out ofBroyles's hands and hire an Atlanta-based headhunting firm to find theRazorbacks a coach. South Alabama's John Pelphrey was hired on Monday.

It's a safe betthat Pelphrey—or Nutt or any coach—will be unable to repeat the arc ofBroyles's career at the school. With so many demanding fans doing their owninvestigative reporting and Internet rabble-rousing, it has become almostimpossible for anyone to achieve that kind of longevity. The emperor's throneisn't nearly as comfortable as it used to be.

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