OPINION | WALLY HALL: Oaklawn becomes Broyles Award sponsor

A sign in the 2700 block of Central Avenue in Hot Springs welcomes visitors to Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in this April 2023 file photo. (Hot Springs Sentinel-Record/Donald Cross)
A sign in the 2700 block of Central Avenue in Hot Springs welcomes visitors to Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in this April 2023 file photo. (Hot Springs Sentinel-Record/Donald Cross)

It was like the announcement of a royal marriage.

A large crowd gathered at the Little Rock Marriott yesterday to learn Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort will become the presenting sponsor for the Broyles Award.

Oaklawn is the nation's longest running sports franchise owned by the same family -- since 1904 -- and the Broyles Award has become one of the most respected in college football in the last 28 years.

When David Bazzel created the Broyles Award for the outstanding assistant college coach in America, he couldn't have imagined that winners would include Kirby Smart, who has won two consecutive national championships at Georgia, and Gene Chizik, who won a natty at Auburn.

Some of the biggest success stories in college football such as Gus Malzahn, Lincoln Riley and a total of 20 Broyles Award winners have become head coaches.

The award is named for Frank Broyles, whose coaching tree spanned decades of success.

Oaklawn has been in the Cella family for 119 years.

Since the addition of first Instant Racing and later a casino, Oaklawn has become a major player on the racing scene alongside Santa Anita.

While tracks were closing across America, Oaklawn was growing. It is now led by Louis Cella, who has made Oaklawn a vacation destination with its restaurants, hotel and spa.

The Broyles Award Banquet will be in the Statehouse Convention Center on Dec. 5 but starting in 2024 will make the natural move to Oaklawn's convention center.

There was a large turnout of Hot Springs folks who were excited about the chance to show they are as good at rolling out the red carpet as anyone in the country.

Oaklawn General Manager Wayne Smith, Broyles Foundation CEO Betsy Broyles Arnold and Broyles Executive Director Molly Harrell made the announcement.

Bazzel, who also developed the 75-pound trophy, and Broyles Foundation Chairman Jeff Hildebrand were beaming like fathers of a bride and groom.

Growing out of the Broyles Award is one for high school coaches too that began in 2018.

Traditionally the banquet is an early December luncheon, but Smith hinted it might become a dinner and it might be held later in the year because of the expanded college football playoffs.

One thing is certain -- any changes made will only enhance the award.

When Broyles became the head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks in 1958 he would take his team to Hot Springs the night before games at War Memorial Stadium.

Rich history of Oaklawn and the Broyles Award make for a royal team.

. . .

When Steve Sarkisian was named the winner of the Broyles Award in 2020 for his role at Alabama the burnt orange carpet had already been rolled out and now in his third season at the University of Texas he and the Longhorns are the talk of the nation.

Last Saturday, the Longhorns gave Nick Saban just his ninth home loss at Alabama and his first by double digits.

In the fourth quarter Texas scored 21 points to beat 'Bama 34-24 and the Longhorns finished with 454 yards of offense to only 362 for the Crimson Tide.

Texas had possession for five more minutes than Alabama.

Sophomore quarterback Quinn Ewers completed 24 of 38 passes for 349 yards and three touchdowns to give the seven-point underdogs the edge.

What was most apparent from the opening kickoff was the Longhorns were poised and prepared for anything and everything the Tide had, including a hostile environment.

In the final 15 minutes Saban looked like he couldn't believe what was happening.

Another Broyles Award success story is beginning.