FAYETTEVILLE — There was nothing easy about Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ trip from Dallas to Fayetteville on Friday morning.
Rough weather on the ground forced his jet to circle Northwest Arkansas much longer than usual. When it was finally cleared to land, the destination wasn’t the planned spot at Fayetteville’s Drake Field. Instead, Jones’ flight was diverted to Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Bentonville.
But the reason for the trip — to honor former Arkansas coach and athletic director Frank Broyles before a golf outing — was worth any amount of travel troubles.
“It was very, very important,” Jones said nearly four hours after the trip began. “We were circling in the air for a long time, but we had to get in for this.”
Jones and roughly 150 others gathered at Paradise Valley Golf and Athletic Club to applaud Broyles’ nearly 56-year affiliation with the Razorbacks on Friday. The golf tournament was the first leg of functions celebrating Broyles’ life and legacy at Arkansas ahead of his official retirement at the end of the month. He’ll also be honored during a banquet at the John Q. Hammons Center in Rogers Saturday night.
Jones was the guest speaker for Friday’s kickoff event and, even though his appearance was delayed because of the weather issues, delivered an emotional message with Broyles standing by his side. The former Arkansas football player, who was a member of the 1964 national championship team, referred to Broyles as an inspiration and role model throughout his athletic and business career.
“He’s been a great example,” said Jones, who had to fight back tears during portions of his speech Friday. “He’s certainly not only a man of exceptional integrity and character, but he also has been very talented and accomplished, very organized. With not only what he accomplished as a coach, but as an athletic director and how he has made decisions. How he has attracted people to him. He’s attracted the best, first in football, and then administratively.
“What he’s done for our state and what he’s done for the Razorbacks has just been a beacon. There’s no doubt he influenced me wanting to be involved in sports and wanting to be involved with the Cowboys.”
Jones has owned the Cowboys since 1989. The organization has won three Super Bowls in that span and has remained one of the most recognizable in sports.
Jones said Friday he would not be in his position with the Cowboys if he hadn’t crossed Broyles’ path long ago. Jones reiterated later the statement was not a reach.
“He very candidly gave me a feeling that I could do it,” Jones said. “That I could get it done. I remember visiting with him right after I had made the decision, and he said, ‘You can do this. I’m convinced you’ve got the skills to get her done.’ That really helps, too. Even after I made the decision to buy the Cowboys, I was very apprehensive. I was scared, if you will, how we would make it work. How we might try to do it not only on the field, but off the field. When I look at the things he’s done, the salesman he is, the organizer, the way he put things together up here, the building programs, all of that, there are a lot of parallel decisions I make every day.”
Similar sentiments filled the building as former Arkansas coaches and players gathered Friday. Among those in attendance were former Razorback Foundation president Harold Horton, former Arkansas player and assistant Jesse Branch and former Razorback Bill McClard. The gathering also included Arkansas men’s basketball coach Mike Anderson, tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr., former Arkansas baseball coach Norm DeBriyn and long-time football trainer Dean Weber.
Everyone looked back at Broyles’ impact on Arkansas athletics as coach, athletic director and ambassador over his career. Broyles’ affiliation with the school began when he was named football coach in 1958. He retired as Arkansas’ athletic director in 2007, but has maintained office hours in the Razorback Foundation in his role as athletic director emeritus since turning the program over to Jeff Long.
“You are talking about someone who has given his heart and his soul to this university for 55 years,” Anderson said. “I always said that if you cut him, little Razorbacks would come out of him. He’s strong, man. The word is strong — to continue and do it in the capacity that he has done for so long.”
Broyles also has dedicated much of the past 10 years to the Frank and Barbara Broyles Foundation CareGivers United. The organization was created after his wife’s death in 2004 from complications with Alzheimers and is aimed toward educating families with loved ones who are suffering from the disease.
Broyles wrote the book on the subject. His daughter, Betsy Arnold, has called the work his “second legacy.” Saturday night’s banquet will help raise money for the foundation and Jones announced a $100,000 contribution Friday.
“I never dreamed that when he was talking about the fourth quarter to us the night before a ballgame in Eureka Springs — when he had the team up there and telling us the way it was going to be — I never dreamed that we would be standing here right now in 2014 and him coaching us on how to be in life in the fourth quarter,” Jones said. “How to handle the stuff that comes along in life in the fourth quarter. And boy did he coach us up. You showed us how to do it.”
While he is retiring at the end of the month, Broyles won’t stop working. He plans to remain active in the foundation. Broyles said he was “blown away” by Jones’ donation and added he was “flattered” by the attention this week.
He was especially grateful to have Jones in attendance Friday.
“I have great respect for him,” said Broyles, who insisted on introducing Jones to the crowd before he spoke Friday. “One thing I appreciate very much is that he’s been a great success with character and has run a great program and he hasn’t forgotten his ties as a Razorback. … We’re very proud of him. Very proud of him.”
Jones joked that he came to Fayetteville to look into the “rumor” that Broyles was retiring, believing it was false. He said men like Broyles “don’t go away. They’re there … Because they’re just too influential.”
Jones said it has been evident in the five decades he has known Broyles.
“I didn’t even think about it being 50, much less 55 years later,” Jones said. “But it’s so easy when you live them year by year to generalize when you say 55. The facts are, I’ve spent a lifetime … I was 17, maybe 16, when I first met Coach Broyles.
“He’s been a real substantive part of my life.”