Editor's Note: This is a column written in 1968 by Orville Henry, then sports editor of the Arkansas Gazette. It details the outdoor hobbies of Arkansas football coaches through the years. Current coach Bret Bielema said he loves to fish and will plan a White River trout trip in the future. He injured his back reeling in a big gulf fish last month while in Destin for the SEC meetings. Bielema is also a solid golfer. This column is courtesy of Bill Eldridge, who saved the original manuscript sent to his grandfather by Henry.
By Orville Henry
Back in the old days at Arkansas, when the University changed footballs coaches every two or three years, the incoming savior had to pass a ritual test. He would have to undergo inspection around the campfire, in the duck blind, and on the fishing streams by the members of the power structure, particularly the planters of Eastern Arkansas.
This all ended with Frank Broyles, who came as a shock to them.
Rolfe Eldridge, an enthusiastic Razorback Club leader, remembers the day well. He had assembled his friends for a weekend outing at his palatial houseboat anchored in Taylor Bay on the White River near Augusta.
When it came time to man the smaller boats for hours on the water, Frank demurred.
“If you don’t mind,” said the young football technician, “I’ll just stay here and read this book.”
“Looking back now,” Rolfe recalled the other day, “Our worst outdoorsman is the best football coach we’ve ever had. And our best outdoorsman was the worst football coach.”
He was comparing Broyles, whose teams have captured five Southwest Conference championships in 10 years, and rugged Otis Douglas, whose teams went 9-21 from 1950-52.
Douglas was and is the complete man, an amazement to all who know him.
A native of Tidewater, Va., whose family fished the oyster beds, Douglas signed a player-coach contract with the Philadelphia Eagles at the age of 35. Some 15 years later he served as a coach of the pennant-winning Cincinnati Redlegs. They hired him in the spring to improve their athletes’ batting eyes – through B-B gun marksmanship – and kept him as an inspirational cheerleader on the bench. He could box, wrestle, ice-skate, shoot skeet, trap and game, play all the sports, and speak French. Today he is pioneering in remedial vision and other rehabilitative fields at a boys school in Columbus, Ga.
“What a man,” says Eldridge. “A Daniel Boone in the woods. He was down here one day with his father-in-law, hunting ducks in about 20-degree weather. His father-in-law fell in the water. Otis stripped to his long johns, giving up his warm clothes, and stayed out there for hours. Squirrel, ducks, anything – he could see it and hit it.”
“Frank? He likes to play golf, period,” grins George Cole, the longtime assistant athletic director and a man who has fished expertly from Great Bear Lake above the Arctic Circle to the Gulf of Mexico.
Cole made an effort to break Frank in properly. He took him to Lake Ouachita, the hot spot, one cold day in 1958.
“I’d never used a guide,” says George, “but I hired one, just to be sure. That was my biggest mistake.”
Frank tells the rest of it.
“I was in the front of the boat,” he said, “George was in the middle and the guide was in the back. He backed us up to where he knew there was an old creek bed. Right off, he started casting. ‘I’ve got one,’ he yelled. He reeled in a nice bass and George netted it. I cast and I backlashed. The guide kept casting and yelling. About 10 other boats began gathering around us. I never got to cast once, for netting the guide’s fish. He cast 12 times and caught 12 bass weighing 44 pounds. We got to hold the fish when they took the picture in front of his place.”
He would honestly like to fish, says Broyles, and taper off on the golf, and not just because his old mentor, Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd, long ago laid down the head coach’s leisure law: He can fish with impunity, because no one ever sees him, but if he plays golf, and gets seen, he’s shirking his duties and subject to blame when his team loses.
“If I could just catch ‘em,” says Frank. “It’s not luck. It’s ability. I still plan to do a lot of fishing, but I haven’t been able to get to it.”
Jerry McKinnis, the state’s No. 1 personality, owner of a dock and writer and TV figure, introduced Frank to trout fishing on the White River below the big dams. He caught ‘em and ate ‘em and loved it, but McKinnis hasn’t been able to book him for the return trip.
On the other hand, Broyles is responsible for a boom in the state’s catfish industry.
“In Georgia,” he explains, “you wouldn’t think of eating that mudcat out of the Chattahoochee. So I’d never tasted what they have over here, that filet steak from the channel cat.”
For 10 years now, he’s never eaten his fill. Wherever he speaks, they make it a fish-fry. Supplied by Rice farmers who turn their fallow fields into fishing tanks, the supply gets more plentiful and delectable every year.
Arkansas’ present grid prosperity began with John Barnhill, who came over from Tennessee as head coach and athletic director, which he still is, in 1946. He was prompted to apply for the job while on a deer hunting trip in Arkansas in December 1945. It was the custom of the late Gen. Robert R. Neyland, the Vols’ empire builder, to retire to the estate of Rufus Branch, a UT alumnus, each winter. They’d hunt for a week at River Lakes, near the Mississippi River. Barnie was just filling in for Neyland, whom he’d replaced as UT head coach during the war. But Neyland was coming back. Brancb, also an ardent Arkansas fan, suggested that Barnhill put in a call to Little Rock, where the coach hunters were meeting. A few days later, he was hired.
But did he get his deer?
“I got one shot,” says Barnie, “and missed.
“John Miller, the federal judge, was on the trip and he got one. I made my first speech at Fort Smith and he was there. I knew he was going to rib me. So I told them that they tied up a deer for me to shoot but he beat me to it.”
Barnhill, a one-time Tennessee farm boy, hunted quail expertly and kept a dog until illness slowed him down. He fished mainly to get away from telephones.
“George Cole will tell you about the time I hooked a big old bass and let him get under the boat and all over the place. I told him, ‘I never did have so much trouble getting rid of a fish.’”
Eldridge remembers the time five members of a party stood up in a duck blind to face an incoming flight. Barnhill’s gun went off near his ear. Eldridge says, “I thought he’d killed me.”
“They took me duck hunting right after we beat Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl in 1959,” says Broyles. “The only other time I’d ever shot was in Navy gunnery practice. They said I hit some of them. I’m sure that if we’d had a losing season, there wouldn’t have been any ducks in my bag when we divvied up.”
What he recalls first is that he fell into the water a mile and a half from the lodge in 15-degree weather. He hasn’t been back and he refuses to risk his neck on a deer hunt.
Bowden Wyatt (1953-54) was an expert fly fisherman; he learned how wading trout streams at his previous stop, Wyoming. Jack Mitchell (1955-57) could do almost anything he wanted to but expressed little interest. He was once photographed fast asleep in a boat, his line slack in the water. He once turned a fishing trip into a water-skiing lark.
Which brings us around to the true connoisseurs, The Arkies on the UofA staff.
George Cole is the man they all want to go with, because he is the careful planner, the master of all details, the man who will think of everything from the type of cushion required to the tool he invented for filleting crappie.
Then there is the sage of the Ozarks, tall, plain Glen Rose, seeker of the lunker bass.
Lastly, but not least, there is Wilson Matthews, only remaining original member of Broyles’ 1958 staff, who, as Glen puts it, “Can sure see a frog,” and whose specialty is fishing for bream “with a long pole and a long line.”
Their frog hunts, particularly as reported by the novitiates on the staff, are legendary.
The Arkansas season begins on April 1. The nights can be cold in Northwest Arkansas at this time of year, but early hunting has its advantages. The banks are free of grass and foliage, which hide the frogs later. The frog legs are tender then. And few snakes are about.
Jim Mackenzie, the late Oklahoma coach who was Broyles’ defensive overseer through 1965, feared a snake worse than the Texas Longhorns. Though a 250-pounder, he was said to have once jumped in and out of the boat, avoiding one, and not getting wet in the process.
We are not at liberty to say whether or not the UofA folks ever pre-remedied this with what frog hunters call 80-20. At take-off, a jug is filled with four-fifths vodka and one-fifth chaser.
This, it’s said, “makes that great big snake look little, and that little bitty frog look big.”
The staff specialty is a four-hour float on the Illinois River. They start with a cookout on the banks and, hopefully, finish about midnight. It’s the first one of the season that can be a doozy; they never know how many brush piles and logjams the winter rains have left.
“I’ve been on floats,” says Matthews, “where I carried the boat more than I rode in it, because of jams, gravel that had shifted, or low water. I’ve started at dark many a time and come out at daylight.”
They’d put in, say at a steel bridge just across the line in Oklahoma, leaving a truck four miles or so down the stream, say at an abandoned fruit stand near Siloam Springs.
“We’ve had foul-ups,” said Matthews. “The water was high one spring and we went ahead. The boat turned over on me and Steed White when we hit a treetop. The current held it sideways against the branches, and we couldn’t right it. All we could do was hold on up in the tree and try to save what we could, battery, gigs, paddles. Ed Teeter, used to coach at Dumas and was raised on the river. He was downstream with Bill Ferrell. When they saw our stuff floating by, they came back.
“Only a good man with a boat could have found us in pitch dark in all that turbulence,” says Matthews. “Ed saved us.”
Johnny Majors, now head coach at Iowa State, swore off after one trip.
“Our boat was having trouble just before the take-out place,” says Matthews, “and we could hear Majors yelling at us. He was freezing. So were we. He’d give us just five more minutes. Well, it was his car. When we got there, it wouldn’t start. So it was left up to me and Jim Watson, George’s son-in-law, to hike the four miles to my car at the put-in place. We tried to thumb a ride, but who’d pick up two soaking wet tramps in old clothes at three in the morning? We got back to Majors’ car at five. He and Barry Switzer (now on Oklahoma’s staff) were sound asleep. Anytime we’d mention frog hunting to Majors after that, he’d just snort.”
Rose is prized for his companionship.
“He sings and tells stories,” says Matthews. “And he gives you the devil. I’d have the paddle across my knees, looking, and he’d announce grandly, ‘The mark of a good paddler is a wet paddle.’”
Cole is the master paddler.
“There’s an art in handling a boat through fast water in the dark,” Matthews says. “I just let the rough side drag. When you’ve got a big drop-off, and rocks in front, a man has to be a skilled maneuver. George can do it, and he’ll let you do the gigging.”
Before the completion of Beaver Dam, which backed up a lake that fingers all over Northwest Arkansas, they floated all the tributaries of the upper White. One night Matthews and Duddy Waller, the present basketball coach, saw a light up ahead at a spot they knew should have been deserted. A voice on a bull horn challenged them.
“We said we were frog hunting,” Matthews says. “and they said they were dynamiting for a pipeline that would go under the lake when the dam was finished. We told ‘em to go ahead, not much believing them. That blast nearly blew us out of the water.”
After the lake came in, the frog hunting became first rate. Then it fell off.
“I’m afraid it’s over,” Matthews says. “People say that’s the history of lakes. After two years, the frogs disappear. But we’ve still got the Illinois.”
When Rose retired two years ago, the bills all paid and the children reared, he planned to become a full-time Beaver Lake bass fisherman. Fate has treated him harshly. Beaver never has provided the fishing known at Table Rock, Norfork or Bull Shoals, the other great White River impoundments, he says.
“Two years ago the fishing at Beaver was good,” he says. “People were catching bass with Hot Spots, and minnow type plugs. Last year, those wouldn’t work at all. Everybody went to plastic worms, just dragging them across the bottom. Still, even the bream and crappie fishing was off. I don’t fish as hard as I used to, and I don’t get up early or go at night, like you need to sometimes, and I enjoy getting out whether you catch anything or not, but it’s always more enjoyable when you catch something.”
This past spring Glen attended a reunion at Nacogdoches, Texas, of the Stephen F. Austin basketball teams he coached, 1947-51, between his UofA stints.
“The only reason I went,” he says, “I love to fish Sam Rayburn Lake. I hired a guide, did everything he said, and after six hours we hadn’t had a nibble.”
But Rose, says Matthews, is after just one thing, the big bass.
“He’ll fish all day with a bait as big as a corn cob,” he says. “He’s too hard-headed to change.”
As for Matthews, he concentrates on bream, because they provide constant action and to his notion, the best eating.
“If I ever caught a big bass, I’d probably go crazy,” he says. “But I’m too impatient for that, and I don’t like to eat ‘em. A crappie is a big, old lazy fish, pretty good eating. I learned bream fishing from Hoss Manning (the late Howell Manning, a sporting goods dealer who knew every coach in the state and was widely admired.) He used a long, light cane pole, and a line as long as the pole, and a little ole bitty cork. He’d roll his wrist, and lay that bait under the limbs. He’d use the smallest shot he could find, so the bait would bounce through the water, rather than drop fast.
“When you could find cockroaches, that was our bait. Now it’s crickets. Those would catch bream when no one else was getting a bite. We broke many a limb up at Lake Conway. When those government-improved bream came in, we caught ‘em time after time. If you got one that weighed a pound, it would rattle your pole. We caught ‘em at Lake Chicot, Peckerwood Lake, Lake Enterprise, Holly Grove, all over. Right now, Lake Conway is the best for crappie if you know where to go. This should be the big year at Lake Dardanelle, but mainly for bass. Lake Atkins is still a good bream spot, and they’re catching big crappie out of Lake Overcup.”
You should know, too, what happens to all these fish. They filet every one of them, from the smallest bream to the biggest bass. They shear the legs off the frogs as they catch them, dress them the next morning, then freeze them. And, on a mild spring or summer evening, they get together for a cookout. Cole and Matthews serve as chefs.
Most folks deep-fry frog legs. Matthews prefers them broiled over the charcoal after marinating them in vinegar, lemon juice and Wesson oil, seasoned to taste.
The newest member of the fraternity is Don Breaux, hired from Florida State as the new backfield coach. One of the things he moved from Tallahassee was a mounted 14-pound bass.
In the midst of spring training he got a letter from a coaching friend telling him what was happening on Lake Jackson, which is just a half mile from the Tallahassee city limits. Two men had come out with 13 bass weighing 103 pounds.
“That was our private place, ours and the blacks around there,” says Don, a Cajun originally from Lake Charles, “until two magazine articles came out about it. I’m just sick about that.”
Just as well, perhaps.
He undoubtedly faces the fate of all the other Broyles imports. He’ll become a head coach, and take up golf.
Orville Henry's Take on Coaching Hobbies
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