When the old timers who played college football gather, eventually talk will center on who among them could have played in today’s game that features greater speed and size.
A handful of names surface from the different eras of Arkansas football. Loyd Phillips, a Longview High graduate, is always included.
Phillips passed Sunday at age 75, a victim of blood clots in his legs, partly the result of injuries sustained to an ankle during a brief career in the NFL. Phillips was a two-time All-American and three-year starter (1964-66) for the Razorbacks. He became ill last week because of a stroke.
It’s legend that Phillips won the 1966 Outland Trophy as the nation’s top interior lineman only to try to decline it. He was convinced by sports information director Bob Cheyne to accept “because it was mainly a team award.” Phillips reluctantly agreed.
That revelation Sunday did not surprise the men who worked with him as a public school administrator in Springdale and Rogers.
“That sounds like something Loyd would do,” said Mark Kruger, who served alongside Phillips as an assistant principal at Rogers High School.
“He was the most humble person I ever knew. The kids at our school probably knew he was a football hero, but not through him because he never mentioned it.”
Roy Fears started in the Springdale school district at the same time as Phillips. They have been close friends for 50 years.
“I was behind Loyd at the UofA by a few years and was finishing up my degree when he came back from the NFL,” Fears said. “So we graduated together and both were hired the same year at Springdale. I was coaching and he was assistant principal at Central Junior High.
“So that’s when we became friends, hunting and fishing together. What I’d want to say about Loyd is simply that most know him as a great football player, but he was a better school administrator.”
What Phillips did was watch out for the troubled youth, the boys rough around the edges, prone to fighting or poor work ethic in school. He told them, “I was just like you and want to help you avoid my problems.”
Charlie Cooper was athletic director and football coach at Rogers. He saw Phillips execute that plan with great resolve and a vast array of techniques.
“Loyd had great ability to communicate,” Cooper said. “He could go to any level. He had a soft voice that would communicate love if that’s what you needed, but if he ran into the tough guy, he could play that game, too.
“He would talk about his mother and relate to their mothers. He recognized the ones having trouble.
“It was always real with Loyd, never phony. Kids recognize a phony from 9 million miles away. He was never that.”
Cooper’s wife got to know Phillips when they both worked as counselors at Oakdale Junior High in Rogers.
“What she saw was the way he cared about everyone,” Cooper said. “She came home talking about how Loyd got to know students, faculty and all of their families. He could communicate that love so well.”
Former Razorback Tom Reed got to know Phillips as a parent. Their daughters played basketball in Springdale.
“I knew what kind of school administrator Loyd was from talking to the kids,” Reed said. “It was all positive, nothing but good things to say about him.”
All said Phillips’ humble nature made it tough to talk about his football days.
“Just now and then, he’d talk about that Texas Tech loss, his last game,” Reed said of a 21-16 loss in 1966 that kept the Razorbacks from winning the SWC for the third consecutive season. “He’d bring up that they scored two times at the end that the officials didn’t give them and it cost them another championship.
“The other thing he’d say, ‘Our teams (in 1964-66) never lost to Texas.’ He was so proud of that.”
Ken Hatfield, Phillips’ teammate in 1964, reminded that Phillips could say that in an era when a victory over Texas was rare.
“Of course, he was from Longview, Texas, and to go 3-0 against (Texas) would mean a lot,” Hatfield said. “How many anywhere can say that?”
Arkansas grad Pat Jones, former head coach at Oklahoma State and an assistant under Frank Broyles at Arkansas, has always called Phillips “the greatest Razorback football player ever. If you were starting a team, I’d take Loyd first.”
Phillips raged to both sidelines, tossing blockers aside and smashing ball carriers. He was savage in practice and if things weren’t to his liking a fight was likely. He loved Arkansas assistant Jim Mackenzie. Betsy and Loyd Phillips named their son Mackenzie.
“Our practices with Loyd you might call unique,” Hatfield said. “Coach Mackenzie and Loyd would stare each other in the eye. It was like two bears squaring off.
“Loyd dominated older players as a true sophomore. God gave him great gifts and he used them on the football field and then later as an administrator.
“The greatest thing was what he did with young people in those schools. He put so many on the right path, the ones who were in a lot of trouble. He’d been there.
“He’s in heaven now watching all those he helped do so well. He touched so many lives in a positive way.”
Fears marvels at the active life Phillips lived despite health issues caused by the ankle injury and the blood clots that never went away.
“You never saw Loyd in shorts,” Fears said. “He’d been leg whipped when he played with the Chicago Bears his rookie year. The leg swelled and they treated it with steroids. He fought that injury for 50 years.
“I used to say Loyd had a book of excuses for not wanting to do something like hunting, but his favorite was, ‘My leg is hurting.’ He was quick to use that one. But it was real. Circulation was a problem. He’d wrap it every day.”
It did not keep Phillips from important things.
“We were in a (weekly) Bible study together the last three years,” Hatfield said. “Loyd didn’t miss.”
Fears laughs about the way Phillips tried to find things to do in retirement.
“I had a big yard, maybe 5 acres,” Fears said. “Loyd showed up and said, ‘I’m going to mow it for you.’ He did, but it cost me a lot because of the damage he did with the mower. He wanted to find ways to help you, or do work for the Lord. That’s what he’d say, ‘I’m out helping the Lord.’”
Phillips kept up with his co-workers. Hand-written notes of encouragement were common. He could send a text, but often it was to obtain an address.
“We lost a daughter a few years ago,” Cooper said. “We got a hand-written letter. It had no return address. It was signed just ‘Loyd.’ It meant a lot.”
Kruger has heard similar stories for years.
“I have heard just amazing things of what Loyd did for so many,” Kruger said. “So many kids from both Springdale and Rogers told me, ‘Mr. Phillips saved me. I wouldn’t have made it.’ They just adored him and he kept up with them. He’d write notes.
“The amazing part, few of them had a clue what a great Razorback he’d been. I loved to hear him at his desk. Mine was right next to him. He’d answer the phone and say in that Texas drawl, ‘This is Loyd Phillips, may I help you?’ And, then he did. He was just a wonderful person.”
That would be the standard response from almost anyone who knew Loyd Phillips, unless you were a Texas Longhorn.