Rice's Ken Hatfield talked with one of his players during a game last season. Hatfield leads the Owls against Hawaii.

Hatfield likes
life at Rice

The Owls coach has
been in the big-time, but
his style works just as well
at the underdog Houston school

As a 23-year-old freshman-team coach at West Point in 1966, Lt. Ken Hatfield learned quickly that teaching football is about a lot more than wins and losses. The former academic All-American player at Arkansas was helping prepare men to lead others; some who would end up directing combat soldiers in Vietnam.

While the stakes are not life and death and victory and defeat on a faraway battlefield anymore, Hatfield maintains the same philosophy today. That's why he's head coach at Rice, and not some bigger-name football school in a bigger-name conference.

"I think the opportunity to help train leaders and people who can make a difference in this world is important. College football players who get degrees have a unique opportunity," said Hatfield, whose Owls team is here to play Hawaii tomorrow.

"A booster might help them get a job, but once they get in there the rest of the company will care less about his touchdowns and whatever else he did on the field. But the things he learned playing football, combined with the things he learned to get his degree prepare him for leadership. He will be ready to help the company turn a profit and make positive contributions to society.

"The bottom line of coaching isn't the wins and losses, but what your players are doing 10 years later."

Hatfield could've taken a different path. His 159-118-4 record as a head coach more than 25 years includes 55-17-1 at Arkansas and 32-13-1 at Clemson. He was big-time. He could still be coach at a BCS school if he wanted it.

But he prefers to stay at Rice, the school with the smallest enrollment of the 117 that play Division I football, a school with stringent academic entrance requirements, even for football players.

"He likes being the underdog because he is very competitive and he feels that's how life is every day," Rice defensive coordinator Roger Hinshaw said in a recent Associated Press article. "These kids have to work for everything they get and that's the way it's going to be when they leave here. He feels it's a preparation for life."

Hatfield, 60, is in excellent health; his hobbies are running, golf and tennis. His most dangerous offseason pastime might be driving his wife, Sandy, a champion cowgirl, from event to event on the rodeo circuit.

He said he doesn't know how long he will continue to coach.

"I have no idea. It's pretty much a year-to-year thing," the fifth-winningest active coach in Division I-A said. "I'll stay as long as I feel like this where the Lord wants me."

There was speculation last October that Hatfield might be asked to leave Rice because of controversial published comments he made about gays in sports. Hatfield was quoted as saying he would have difficulty accepting a homosexual as a member of his team.

Hatfield quickly apologized, and said he believes in Rice's nondiscrimination policy.

"I've always tried to uphold the worth of the individual. And I would certainly never do anything against the mission of Rice," he said yesterday.

But he also good-naturedly cut off a what-if question before it was even asked.

"No, I won't answer a hypothetical question," he said, clearly anticipating the question would be about keeping an outwardly gay player on his team. "In some situations you have no idea how you would react. It's like you like to think you'd be a hero if the need arises, but you really have no idea how you would react. You just hope you are strong enough when you need to be."

He recently received a vote of confidence from his boss, Rice athletic director Bobby Mays.

"People enjoy, including me, working with him," Mays told AP. "There are so many egos in this business and he's certainly not one of them. He has a multiyear contract. We're pleased with the type of person he is and hope he is at Rice as long as he's involved in coaching."

Hatfield is in line to become the next president of the American Football Coaches Association. It could be perfect timing for a respected coach of a mid-major team to lead battles against the big-money influences in college football.

Conference realignment, the Bowl Championship Series and other issues will surely be on Hatfield's agenda. He hopes to help facilitate some level of fairness, but sees it as a huge challenge. He said several good bowl-eligible Rice teams didn't play in postseason because of bowl games alliances with conferences.

"Money seems to be driving conferences further and further apart," he said. "It's good that the Tulane president put a lot of people in the same room and is saying we're smart enough to work it out. We all have to be smart enough to look at the chalkboard and look at where we want to be in 10 years. What do we really want to do with intercollegiate sports? Do we want to get to a point where there are two groups and one is semi-pro?

"The answer is out there somewhere. Someone has to have enough leadership to find it," he said. "There are a lot smarter people than me involved. The problem is there is an attitude with some that they don't care how much they spend. It does not matter what our competition spend."

When asked about minority coaches, Hatfield hinted that some are hired as a novelty and let go before they can prove themselves. He said all new head coaches need to be given adequate time to develop their programs.

"There are some mighty good coaches out there, but they need a minimum of five years in a program to establish their coaching personality, their recruiting and coach their own players for at least one year," Hatfield said. "Anything less than that is not fair. If you hire someone, you believe in them. You need to give them enough time."

Ken Hatfield has had 25 years as a head coach. It looks like college football could use him for quite a few more.

The Hatfield file

art >> Started at Rice: December 1993.

>> Each of his last 17 teams have finished in the top 20 nationally in rushing offense, including nine top-10 finishes. The 2002 Owls were second nationally.

>> His Rice teams are 2-0 in Hawaii, his Arkansas teams 1-0, and his Air Force teams 0-2.

>> 1964 All-Southwest Conference player, and was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1989. Is a member of the Razorbacks' all-time team.

Hawaii vs. Rice

When: Tomorrow, 6:05 p.m.

Where: Aloha Stadium

Tickets: $23 sideline, $18 south end zone, $10 north end zone (adult), $9 north end zone (students/seniors, age 4-high school), UH students free (super rooter only). Available at Aloha Stadium, Stan Sheriff Center, UH Campus Center and Windward Community College's OCET Office. Or call 800-944-2697 or on the Internet.

TV: KFVE (Channel 5), delay at 10 p.m., with rebroadcast Sunday at 9 a.m. Also available live on Pay-Per-View. Call 625-8100 on Oahu or (866) 566-7784 on neighbor islands to subscribe.

Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM.

Parking: Gates open at 2:30 p.m. Parking is $5. Alternate parking at Leeward Community College, Kam Drive Inn and Radford High School.

Traffic advisory: 1420-AM is the official traffic advisory station and provides updates before each home game.


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