In Pittsburg, Kansas, United States of America, they used to say long live the King.
I used to say it, too.
Now I'm here to say something else: the King is dead.
In 2009, no story was bigger on the Kansas small-college sports scene then the fall of legendary Pittsburg State football coach Chuck Broyles, a man who, beset by age, adversity and in the end, maybe his own hubris, saw his legacy crumble over the course of one lousy 5-6 football season.
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The last time I talked to Broyles was in October, when I went to Pittsburg to do a story on the Gorillas' struggles — they'd opened MIAA play on a three-game losing streak and were all but out of the playoff discussion in the second week of October. That just doesn't happen in Pittsburg.
The day we spoke, Broyles refused to play the lion in winter... he was, at different times, jovial, defiant, laid-back and optimistic about the future — his future as the coach of the Gorillas, specifically. The MIAA was a beast this year. They had good recruits. Things would be OK, he told me, no reason for anybody to panic.
I walked away thinking if he could gut out seven or eight wins this year, then he could probably ride off into the sunset in 2010, like so many thought he would.
Then things fell apart, like they sometimes do. And I found out I was grossly off base, as I sometimes am.
First, there was a televised 55-3 loss to Washburn at Topeka. For a long time, I never really paid attention to Broyles when I watched Pittsburg State play. There was just too much going on on the field to care what he was doing, too many touchdowns being scored and sacks being administered.
Not this day, though. I pretty much just Chuck-watched this day.
No, he did not wear a headset during the game, as so many Pittsburg State fans had pointed out to me. No, he did not appear to interact with either his players or assistant coaches during the game.
And yes, he appeared disinterested.
That day, I knew he had some problems. But I still didn't think he'd lose his job.
I didn't think it when he lost to Truman State in the final game, either, after he spit out the now-famous quote: "We need to win this game. Then we can say 'Chuck Broyles, head coach at Pittsburg State University 20 years and never had a losing season."
But when he was charged with driving under the influence in Galena right before Thanksgiving, I started to think there was a chance he might be done.
And because I'm a writer, and because my mind is given to flights of fancy, I wondered incessantly for a few days — what had Broyles been doing that night? Who had he been with? What had he been thinking when he decided to get behind the wheel?
But still, I thought he might have one last trump card to play. One last chip to cash in from a lifetime of loyalty to the school he'd played for, when he was still just a farmboy fresh out of Mulberry. The school he'd become the very definition of in 20 years as its coach.
He was out less than two weeks later, no longer football coach and no longer athletic director.
And in the end, more than anything, I was sad. Sad for Broyles. Sad for Pittsburg State.
His 1991 national title couldn't save him. His three national runner-up finishes couldn't save him. His nine MIAA titles couldn't save him. Two national coach of the year awards meant nothing. More than $10 million in improvements to Carnie Smith Stadium, all under his watch, amounted to zilch.
We are all the architects of our own demise.
Long live the King.