"It's been a Razorback miracle that I've witnessed," the 82-year-old Broyles said. "And the fans of Arkansas deserve all the credit."
As Arkansas football coach and athletic director, Broyles built a program with high-profile coaches and top-notch facilities. He told the university's board of trustees Saturday he will retire at the end of the year, ending days of intense speculation about his future.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who played for Broyles, addressed the crowd gathered in the ballroom at the Arkansas Union. Among others attending were football coach Houston Nutt, defensive coordinator Reggie Herring, basketball coach Stan Heath and track and field coach John McDonnell.
Broyles' career at Arkansas began Dec. 7, 1957, when school trustees hired him away from Missouri, where he had coached one year. Broyles wore a red blazer and tie as he spoke and red-and-white balloons and banners decorated the room. One banner read, "Thanks Coach."
"I have notified Chancellor (John) White of my decision to retire as director of athletics, effective at the end of the calendar year. This is not an easy decision after 50 years but a choice that I feel is the best," Broyles told the board.
Jones said afterward he was saddened by Broyles' departure.
"I can tell you from being in the business, he's irreplaceable and he's still 'got it,' and for this state, for this university, I hate to see that diminish in any way," Jones said.
White said he had asked Broyles to remain as a university consultant but said terms had not been worked out. Broyles is a noted fundraiser _ recently captaining a $1 billion capital campaign for the school _ and the former ABC football analyst is a popular speaker wherever he goes.
"Our hope is that he will be the university's No. 1 ambassador and continue to attract resources for the institution, something he does better than anyone," White said. He asked the trustees to designate Broyles "athletic director emeritus" next Jan. 1.
Broyles told the trustees that from his first day with the Razorbacks, he began every speech by saying it was a "genuine privilege" to represent the university, and he began the same way Saturday.
Nutt said Arkansas would miss Broyles.
"Sometimes you don't realize what you have until he's gone," Nutt said. "I think that's what you'll see. You'll find out."
While he was coaching, Broyles became famous for hiring top assistants. More than 25 of them eventually became head coaches, including Joe Gibbs, Jimmy Johnson, Johnny Majors and Jackie Sherrill. The Broyles Award is now given each year to the nation's top assistant football coach.
After becoming AD in 1973, Broyles also hired Lou Holtz to replace him as football coach in 1977 and hired Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson as basketball coaches. Sutton took the Razorbacks to the Final Four and Richardson guided Arkansas to the 1994 national championship. McDonnell's track teams since 1984 have won 42 NCAA championships: 11 cross-country, 19 indoor and 12 outdoor.
"There are a lot of ADs that are director of football, period," McDonnell said. "Director of athletics is not singular _ he did it all."
As athletic director, Broyles guided the Razorbacks out of the Southwest Conference and into the more lucrative Southeastern Conference in 1991.
Broyles' tenure has not been without controversy. Sutton, who left in 1985, has talked of a spat with Broyles that sparked his departure _ and Richardson's firing in 2002 was even more acrimonious.
Richardson sued the school, claiming he was fired because he is black and because he exercised his free-speech rights. U.S. District Judge William R. Wilson Jr. rulein June 2004 that Richardson failed to prove his case and a federal appeals court later agreed.
Broyles, a Georgia native, is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. He was a three-sport star at Georgia Tech and compiled a 144-58-5 record as a head football coach.
White said recent controversy surrounding the football team _ including the departure of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and a pair of top freshmen _ might have played a role in the retirement decision.
"I think that certainly recent events would have contributed to it," White said. "I think that the issue really is the level of pressure that exists today. ... With blogs and message boards and talk shows what they are, the pressure on coaches and athletic directors is just incredible today.