Native Sons

FAYETTEVILLE -- Barry Switzer's first big coaching break came in 1964 when Frank Broyles used his political connections to get Switzer discharged from the U.S. Army Reserves a month and a half early.

Had Broyles not pulled a few strings, Switzer said he would have gone to the University of Arkansas to attend law school -- not coach -- when his six-month military service ended.

Returning to his hometown of Crossett was also an option.

"I had always thought if I wasn't successful in coaching, I could have always gone back to Crossett because Ashley County is still dry," Switzer said. "They needed someone probably down there to sell whiskey."

Switzer didn't end up a bootlegger like his father. Instead, he used his two years on Broyles' coaching staff at Arkansas to propel his own Hall-of-Fame career as a college football coach.

Several other Arkansans have followed suit, leaving cities like Springdale, Helena and Little Rock to become coaches at big-time schools.

Despite its rather small population, Arkansas is a state known for producing rice and soybeans and raising chickens. Add high-profile college football coaches to that list, as well.

"I guess it's in the water," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said.

When Arkansas faces No. 22 Auburn at 6:45 p.m. Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium (ESPN cable channel 25), it will serve as more than just a nationally televised game between two Southeastern Conference teams in need of a big win.

Tuberville is from Camden. Arkansas coach Houston Nutt is a Little Rock native. They'll walk the sidelines Saturday night as two native sons who have had success as major college football coaches.

Paul "Bear" Bryant, Ken Hatfield, Pat Jones, Charlie McClendon, Fred Akers and Butch Davis are among other Arkansans who have left the Natural State to coach elsewhere.

Bryant and Switzer won a combined nine national championships during their stints at the University of Alabama and University of Oklahoma, respectively. And Springdale's Davis is credited with putting the pieces in place for the University of Miami to capture a national title in 2001 after he left for the NFL's Cleveland Browns.

"We all were given opportunities and took advantage of them and were good enough to advance from that," Switzer said. "But I think it was all timing and the opportunity.

"It's just a coincidence we're all from that small state."

Native Sons

At one point in the early 1980s, the coaching jobs at Arkansas (Hatfield), Texas (Akers), Oklahoma (Switzer) and Oklahoma State (Jones) were held by Arkansans.

Hatfield is from Helena. Akers is a native of Blytheville in northeast Arkansas. And Jones is one of four big-time college football coaches that he knows were raised in Little Rock.

Nutt, Larry Jones (Florida State, 1971-73) and Richard Bell (South Carolina, 1982) are also from the state capital.

Why so many?

"I think it's about our raising, the way we were raised, the environment," Nutt said. "It was easier for me; my daddy was a coach."

Several reasons could be suggested for why the state of Arkansas has produced as many high-profile coaches as it has, but one of the more accepted ones is Broyles.

During his stint as the Razorbacks' legendary coach, Broyles earned a reputation for hiring young, up-and-coming assistants who went on to have success once they left Fayetteville.

He hired Switzer out of the Army Reserves and made him Arkansas' offensive ends coach from 1964-65. Switzer went on to become one of only two coaches to win a national championship and the Super Bowl (Dallas Cowboys).

Meanwhile, Pat Jones -- a former walk-on linebacker/noseguard with the Razorbacks -- returned in 1974 to be a graduate assistant for Broyles. The following year, Jones served as Arkansas' defensive line coach.

"You can't say that whole group (of Arkansan coaches) is off of Coach Broyles' family tree, but a good number of them are," said Jones, who coached Oklahoma State from 1984-94.

"He always tended to have good people around those staffs."

Younger coaches like Tuberville and Nutt admit they were influenced by the success Broyles and the other Arkansans had in the college ranks.

"I learned a lot from Fred Akers, Coach Bryant, Frank Broyles and Coach Switzer over those years," Tuberville said. "They were my teen idols as I was growing up, just watching them (do) what they were doing."

The Coaching Network

Not surprisingly, the coaches from Arkansas have helped each other out over the years. They've hired each other when a position on their coaching staffs came open, and some of the younger coaches were given their first big breaks by the older ones.

Legendary Arkansas State coach Larry Lacewell, who also served as Switzer's defensive coordinator at Oklahoma, played a big role in that.

Lacewell grew up with Nutt's father, and he gave Nutt his first full-time job in 1984 when he was hired to be Arkansas State's quarterbacks coach.

"Every guy I hired, I either knew somebody they knew or I knew," Lacewell said. "I'm talking about family or background or something like (that)."

For three weeks, Nutt and Tuberville were on the same coaching staff at Arkansas State. But Nutt left before he would coach a game.

When Jones became Oklahoma State's coach in 1984, one of the first individuals he called to join his staff was Nutt. Nutt was soon hired to be OSU's wide receivers coach.

Lacewell, a Fordyce native, also gave Tuberville his big break.

In the late 1970s, Tuberville was a young head coach at Hermitage High. He had one assistant coach and lived in a trailer cluttered with football books and material.

One day, Lacewell stopped by Hermitage to try to recruit a linebacker who played for Tuberville.

"He lived in a house trailer. I was pretty impressed," Lacewell said. "He had his little projector there and film, and he had some books about football.

"This was a pretty young guy to be a head coach, even though it was a really small high school."

During their conversation, Tuberville asked Lacewell how he could be a college coach. Lacewell told Tuberville: "Bring your trailer and that linebacker with you to Arkansas State."

Tuberville spent five seasons as the defensive ends and linebackers coach at Arkansas State.

"He was a lot better coach than the linebacker was a player," Lacewell joked.

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