John Henry Barnhill was born on February 23, 1903, to James Monroe Barnhill and Margaret Alice Bryan in Savannah, Tennessee.
"I did a lot of thinking," Barnhill
was quoted."I decided I didn't want to spend my life behind a plow."
A standout athlete in Savannah, Barnhill
was small for a football player even by 1920s standards, yet he
proved ideal as a lineman for General Neyland's Tennessee tactics.Players had to have endurance since they played both offense and defense.Neyland's offensive guards had to be mobile for all the pulling they did while leading sweeps in the single wing.Barnhill played offensive guard and, on defense, was a middle guard.He lettered in 1925, 1926, and 1927 and was a senior team captain in 1927.He
was named to the All-Southern
Team and starred for Tennessee teams that went 8,0 and 8,0,1 in 1926 and 1927, respectively.In 1928, Barnhill graduated from Tennessee.He stayed in his home state, becoming the high school head coach at Bristol and compiling a three-year record of 27,3.
While at Bristol
married Annie Katherine Peeler from Camden, Tennessee, in August 1930.
...In 1934, Barnhill was promoted to offensive line coach for Tennessee's varsity team.He
coached the Tennessee offensive line through 1940.In 1941, with General Neyland recalled to the military for World War II, Barnhill was promoted to Tennessee's head coach.
coached the Vols 1942 and 1944 teams to the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl, respectively.After General Neyland returned from military service, Barnhill was hired in 1946 at UA as both athletic director and head football coach.
Frank Broyles, who would later be Barnhill's
most important Arkansas coaching hire, recalled that it was deemed "a surprise" in 1946 for struggling Arkansas to land a coach of Barnhill's magnitude.
In 1946, Barnhill
recruited Clyde "Smackover" Scott from Smackover (Union County), the Razorbacks' greatest athlete of that era and still arguably the greatest of all time.Resigning from the Naval Academy
at the end of World War II to return to Arkansas, Scott was an All-American running back in football and, in track, was the 1948 National Collegiate Athletic Association
(NCAA) 120-yard hurdles champion and the 1948 Olympic silver medalist in the hurdles.Scott led Barnhill's
1946 6,3,2 squad to the Southwest Conference championship and berth in the Cotton Bowl.Arkansas and Louisiana State University
played to a scoreless tie in a New Year's Day blizzard in Dallas.Barnhill's
1947 Hogs went 6,4,1 and beat William & Mary 21,19 at the Dixie Bowl on New Year's Day in Birmingham, Alabama.Feeling the effects of an illness later to be diagnosed as multiple sclerosis, and with teams successively 5,5, Barnhill
gave up coaching following the 1949 season.Henceforth, he
devoted all his
energies to being athletic director.Eventually the multiple sclerosis immobilized Barnhill's right side, but he
persevered to be athletic director through 1971, succeeded first by longtime aide George Cole and then, in 1973, by Broyles, still the UA's
men's athletic director.Barnhill hired three head football coaches Otis Douglas, Bowden Wyatt, and Jack Mitchell before hiring Broyles, a young coach with just one year as head coach at the University of Missouri, in 1958.
was among the first athletic directors to establish a statewide radio network for football games.It put the Razorbacks in virtually every Arkansas home both for fan support and recruiting.He also established the Razorback Clubs for fundraising, which reached not only across the state but also in out-of-state Razorback strongholds, such as Tulsa, Dallas, and the Memphis area.
Barnhill and various coaches would speak at Razorback Clubs
throughout the year, with money from memberships and other contribution going to the Razorback Foundation
, which made the program self supporting.Barnhill
even used Memphis to host the 1947 Texas game, goading Little Rock (Pulaski County) into building War Memorial Stadium.The Razorbacks still split their schedule with Fayetteville and Little Rock home games.Barnhill
also directed the first of what would be many enlargements to Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville and the construction in 1956 of Barnhill Fieldhouse, later called Barnhill Arena, which housed Arkansas basketball through 1993 and now is home to Lady Razorback volleyball and gymnastics.Barnhill
was elected to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame
and was among the eight inductees, including Broyles and Scott, comprising the first class of the University of Arkansas Sports Hall of Honor
founded in 1988.