Friday is the day. If not Friday, Saturday.
In short: Big doings are afoot in Fayetteville.
There’s a reason for the special University of Arkansas Board of Trustees meeting in Fayetteville Saturday morning and it’s not because an emergency attaches to a handful of property transactions.
The executive session slotted on the agenda is not listed as a matter of routine. Here’s the deal:
There is now a growing consensus — among administration, major donors, Board of Trustees — that it is time for Frank Broyles, 82, to retire as athletic director at the University of Arkansas.
In recognition for his meritorious service, it is hoped that Broyles will choose to exit in a way most favorable to him. By Friday, he must announce that he is retiring by the end of 2007, when he will have served a full 50 years at the University of Arkansas. He’d then move into a university role, likely at his current pay level, such as goodwill ambassador or fund-raiser. A proper search for a successor could be conducted while Broyles continues to serve out his time as a functioning athletic director. (No, Houston Nutt is NOT a candidate for the job.)
If Broyles does not make an announcement by Friday — and he’s been unavailable — the situation could be less pleasant. A majority of the board is prepared to remove Broyles as athletic director and speak after the executive session about the reasons.
Board members prefer, of course, that Broyles retire peacefully. It is one thing to vow to remove Broyles, another to vote in public against a man who won national championships at the university and built athletic facilities that are the envy of much larger universities, no matter what his misjudgments of late may have been.
A previous run was made at Broyles’ job, by Chancellor John White and then-Board Chairman William Clark, partially as fallout from Broyles’ spurning of the Stephens-family-led desire to expand Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium in favor of more emphasis on games in Northwest Arkansas. Broyles’ political skills rose to the fore then.
But a key difference exists today. Broyles has lost important support in the powerful financial community in Northwest Arkansas because of the situation surrounding the Springdale football coach Gus Malzahn and star members of the Springdale High football team, belatedly brought into the Hog fold after a championship season. After an uneasy year with football coach Houston Nutt, Malzahn and most of the Springdale players, including heralded quarterback Mitch Mustain, departed. Nutt and the Springdale group never got along and the story refuses to die. The latest disclosure was a report in the Democrat-Gazette that indicated Nutt’s wife had helped circulate an ugly e-mail sent to Mustain by a friend of the Nutt family who enjoyed sideline privileges at Hog football games. Malzahn had many friends and admirers and the polarized camps have also reportedly prompted ugly remarks about Springdale from members of the Hog athletic hierarchy. This has not helped Broyles. He also hurt rather than helped the situation by a meeting he held during the football season with some of the Springdale players and their families. And he also failed to quell coach Nutt’s antipathy toward the Springdale group, a problem that soon festered and dominates fan talk to this day. The impact of instant chatter from multiple sources on the Internet has been an important player in the developments. University officials have received a torrent of comment, little of it good, about problems on campus. Some has come from important donors.
Some expect Broyles to try to buy time, to seek an extension from the Board and to attempt to put his political survival skills to work again. Some Board members are impatient, however. They believe it’s time for a change. (At least some believe those changes could eventually extend down the ladder to coaching positions, once there’s a new athletic director in place. Nutt, despite a successful season, has been damaged by the controversy with the Springdale players and the latest publicity over the e-mail is likely to become recruiting fodder. Basketball coach Stan Heath, who’s having a disappointing season, is also in peril.)
Multiple sources contributed to this account. It doesn’t mean that the situation isn’t fluid and won’t change before Saturday morning.