1964 Renion: Simply, Coaches Great

Harry King tracked down some of the coaches from the 1964 staff to provide insight to what made that team special. Players remember that staff as outstanding. This is part of Hawgs Illustrated's series ahead of the 50-year anniversary of the '64 National Championship. The reunion is set for the Alabama weekend. This column ran earlier in Hawgs Illustrated magazine.

Researching the Arkansas coaching staff circa 1964, I thought I had overlooked some names.

Six assistants were all I found, a reminder that 50 years ago, offenses were simple, defenses were straightforward, and freshmen were ineligible.

Offensive coordinator Bill Pace coached quarterbacks and running backs, Mervin Johnson handled the offensive line, and Barry Switzer had tight ends and wide receivers for Frank Broyles.

On Bret Bielema’s nine-member staff, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney handles quarterbacks, Joel Thomas coaches running backs, Sam Pittman the offensive line, Barry Lunney Jr. the tight ends and Michael Smith the wide receivers.

Talking with Johnson about the changes, I mentioned Switzer’s dual responsibility. “Receivers didn’t run intricate routes back then,” he said. “We just told (Bobby) Crockett to get open.”

The 50 percent increase in assistants is one of many changes since Arkansas finished 11-0 and won a version of the national championship. Back then, the Southwest Conference had a scholarship limit of 115 — up 30 from today’s limit — and coaches could take chances on more high school players.

Plus, hitting the recruiting trail was different.

“In those days if you went recruiting, you signed for a handful of cash and returned what you didn’t spend,” Johnson said.

Early in 1964, the NCAA changed the college game for the better when it altered the substitution rule. That fall, a coach was allowed unlimited substitution when the clock was stopped and two subs on any down. Arkansas was one of the few schools that made full use of the rule, subbing on incomplete passes and planned timeouts and, essentially, playing two-platoon football.

In fact, Johnson still thinks Texas did All-American linebacker Tommy Nobis a disservice by playing him and a half-dozen others both ways.

During game week, Broyles sat in with both the offensive and defensive staffs, keeping his “thumb on the pulse as he had always done,” Johnson said. Pace, Switzer, and Johnson would “kinda formulate the game plan, but he certainly had a lot of input as all head coaches did in that day and time,” Johnson said.

On the ’64 staff, defensive coordinator Jim Mackenzie and linebacker coach Wilson Matthews were … well, different, described by former defensive end Jim Williams as “plain old tough Marines.”

Mackenzie, in particular, knew how to manipulate the head coach.

A couple of years ago, Johnny Majors, who coached the secondary in ’64, told the Little Rock Touchdown Club about the July day that he and some of the others wanted to play golf. In previous summers, the assistants could cut out early for golf or fishing, Majors said, but this particular year, Broyles was demanding that they put in more hours.

According to Majors, Broyles entered a meeting room to ask about progress.

Before long, Mackenize asked Broyles about how he played the first hole at Augusta National the day he shot 72.

Broyles went to the chalkboard, erased the football diagrams, and drew up the shots that produced his birdie on No. 1. When he finished a shot-by-shot of the first five holes, he put down the chalk, decided everybody had gotten too caught up in football and that they should all head to the course, according to Majors.

“Wilson Matthews wasn’t bad at it either,” Johnson said. “They kind of knew where they could change the subject a little bit.”

Mackenzie handled the players’ conditioning, designated the fourth-quarter class.

“We climbed the rope hanging in Barnhill,” Williams said. “We had no weight lifting, but were strong without having muscles popping out. Mackenzie would run us to death. It was a hell of an hour. He had us ready to play six quarters.”

There was no room for nicks and bruises. “He’d say, ‘Williams, I have cuts worse than that on my tongue,’” Williams said.

It was Johnson who visited with John McKay, who had just installed the “I” formation at USC, and brought the details to Fayetteville to retool the Arkansas offense.

“That gave us some ideas,” he said. “Every week we would come up with a bootleg pass or a little option, things we hadn’t been running with previous formations.”

In ’64, punt returner extraordinaire Ken Hatfield was a big part of the offense.

No matter what was going on, everybody stopped to work on the kicking game, Johnson said. “With a guy like (Ken) Hatfield, you had to work on it,” he said.

It was Hatfield’s 81-yard punt return that was vital in the 14-13 victory over Texas in ‘64. Ironically, the day of the game, Hatfield read a newspaper article about how Ernie Koy’s hang time on punts virtually prohibited returns. According to Hatfield, the last line in the article said, “Well you can bet one thing: Arkansas will not run a punt back tonight.”

Not unexpectedly, Hatfield downplayed his role in the return, contending that Arkansas’ success on punt returns was all about coaching and having guys who could run on the return teams.

Speed helped the kickoff coverage team achieve the goal of stopping the return shy of the 20 on many occasions. “We also felt that if they started behind their 20 that our defense could score on them more often than they could score on us — and we usually were successful,” Williams said.

Hatfield also raved about the speed up front of the defense that did not give up a score in the final 20 quarters of the season, declaring that Loyd Phillips and Williams could chase sideline to sideline.

“You couldn’t block Loyd, you’d have to trap him,” Hatfield said. “You wouldn’t want to take him on. He was always in a bad humor, always gruff.

“The thing that was interesting, Jim Mackenzie might not have been able to handle Loyd in another year. But Coach Broyles knew it was time for Jim to be a head coach and he told him he had to learn how to handle players like Loyd. Coach Broyles wanted Mackenzie to polish up some things he did. You saw Mackenzie completely change between ‘63 and ‘64. He was still intense, but he was probably better able to handle someone like Loyd. He was a great sophomore and Mackenzie got him on the field and tolerated a few things that Loyd would pull in practice.

“When you think of what our defense became in ‘64, you have to remember that we had two great sophomores on the field in Loyd Phillips and Harry Jones. And, Mackenzie coached them and handled them great. Not many sophomores played in that era.”

The coaching is never forgotten at the many reunions for the ‘64 champs.

“We may not have known it at the time, but it became evident over time that we had one of the greatest coaching staffs ever assembled in college football,” Jones said. “It’s what guys end up talking about the most when we get together. It will be again.”

For instance, on Alabama weekend.

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