Jim Harris: Bret Bielema v Gus Malzahn – Meh


But, Today’s Coaches Don’t Have the Broyles-Royal Relationship

One of the hot-button questions continually asked by Southeastern Conference media members of Bret Bielema and Gus Malzahn is, what kind of relationship exists between the two. It came up again this week in Hoover, Ala., during SEC Media Days. It will come up again the last week in August when Arkansas and Auburn, those coaches’ respective teams, will prepare to open the season.

It gets asked because people see them as polar opposites in offensive coaching style, and the coaches admit as much: Malzahn loves the no-huddle hurry-up offense, whether it’s having his quarterback throw it around or run read-options up and down the field; there is no rest for the defense. Bielema wants to grind it out slowly and play keep-away from another team’s offense (especially true at Arkansas in this, his second year, where he still lacks many quality defensive players).

Their supposed “feud” over the speed of the game and Bielema’s insistence that current play-clock rules lead to more injuries was just something else promulgated more by the SEC and national media than what likely existed. Bielema, who seems to take some sport in this with the media, added fuel with some pointed shots dating back to the Media Days last year when he talked about playing “real American football.”

So, with nearly 1,300 media members all searching for an interesting story this week — the media even reportedBret Bielema vs Gus Malzahn on the media, things were so slow — the relationship question was there again. Malzahn, who was born in Texas but grew up in Fort Smith, said the two talk on the phone.

Well, great. If they were arch-enemies, you wouldn’t hear it from Malzahn — remember, this is the guy who still won’t talk negatively about the year of hell he endured as offensive coordinator under Houston Nutt other than to thank him for the opportunity.

Bielema, completely transparent in his dealings with the SEC media in the past year, said of Malzahn, “We don’t break bread, but on the other hand I’m not going to be throwing bread and rocks at him.”

You’d probably have to look long and hard to find any two college head coaches who have much of an off-field relationship these days. Probably if they were assistants together on a staff, that good feeling might still exist for head coaches — for instance, Florida’s Will Muschamp and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, who worked on Nick Saban’s LSU staff and have gone on summer vacations together since. One could see former Arkansas and Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt and Georgia’s like-minded Mark Richt breaking bread or having more than a few idle minutes of chit-chat on the phone, though they rarely had any matchups on the field.

It’s become so dog-eat-dog, this world of college football and especially in the SEC, coaches probably don’t have the time to develop strong friendships off the field — which is what makes the dynamic between Frank Broyles at Arkansas and Darrell Royal at Texas back in the 1960s and ’70s so unusual.

These two were 2 and 2A in college football wins in the 1960s, just behind Alabama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant who, incidentally, counted Southern Cal’s John McKay among his close coaching friends. Broyles and Royal had a couple of titanic struggles on the field in the 1960s that determined national champions (1964 to Arkansas, 1969 to Texas) and yet were so close, they even went out together in retirement on Dec. 6, 1976, in Austin.

The game that night was so secondary to their leaving college coaching that when the Memorial Stadium scoreboard malfunctioned and knocked nine minutes off the game during the middle of what would be a Texas romp, 29-12, both coaches just said, “To heck with it,” and let it roll. Their last game together was a 51-minute affair. Then Royal’s players carried him off on their shoulders while Broyles forlornly shook hands and headed alone to his locker room.

Their wives got along greatly. Everyone marveled at how two coaches for arch-rivals could be so close.

Golf was a common interest of both. Drinking was not. Broyles was an avowed teatotaler. Royal would even join the masses for a sip of the strong stuff.

One day at the now-long-gone Rosswood Country Club south of Pine Bluff, Broyles and Royal had been part of a golf exhibition — not sure now who dreamed up the deal, but it seems like KATV executives were — that included PGA golfers R.H. Sikes, who had attended Arkansas and won an NCAA men’s individual championship, and Doug Sanders, the Texas product who would later lose in a British Open playoff to Jack Nicklaus. This was in the latter half of the 1960s and Pine Bluff turned out in big numbers.

Later, after the crowds had dispersed and Broyles had headed home, one Pine Bluffian still hanging out happened upon a lone soul still sitting at the Rosswood bar. He introduced himself to the fan, who had already followed the golf for 18 holes, “Hey, I’m Darrell Royal.” And they talked football for the next half hour.

Broyles developed good relationships with coaches throughout his career, even hosting a golf tournament annually at Cherokee Village and later in Bentonville that brought in the biggest names in NCAA football for a couple of days of football-free fun. Steve Sloan, who quarterback Alabama to a 1965 national title and coached at Ole Miss and Texas Tech, was usually the guy to beat. Later, a guy named Steve Spurrier showed his golf talents. (Coincidentally, Spurrier was asked too what his relationship was with Malzahn, and he said he believed their were “pretty good friends.” Maybe they play golf.)

Broyles and Royal would typically play whenever they could in the off-season when they ran into each other, often speeding around in golf to cover 54 to 72 holes, it’s been said.

Then, it was back to business trying to beat each other on the field. Royal, with all that Texas talent, got the better of Broyles 14 out of 19 times, though Broyles had a magical run of three straight wins in the mid-1960s. Usually, though, he was getting his heart broken.

But nobody had to wonder if Broyles and Royal ever broke bread. There definitely was no rock throwing. Royal and Oklahoma’s Barry Switzer, now that was a different story – a hate-filled rivalry the SEC media wishes existed between Bielema and Malzahn.

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