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'05 post-season news page

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'A dream come true' for family man, Texan who
has fashioned turnarounds wherever he's been

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"There are faces of people in the crowd where you can see the doubt. That’s fine. But two, three years from now, we’ll have all those things changed, and we’ll have restored the great tradition"

 

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"You know, I tell people all the time that the reason we’re going to throw the football is because when you go out in the front yard with your kid, you don’t hand it off to him. You throw it to him"

 

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"This was a big deal to me. Rice University was a big deal when I was growing up. It wasn’t only that it was in the Southwest Conference"

 

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"This situation here is one that I’ve researched quite a bit and there’s no doubt in my mind that we’re going to build a winner here"

 

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"Our motto has been, everywhere I’ve coached, is, ‘We don’t talk about what we can’t do.’ We talk about what we can do, and what we do have. And that’s going to be our motto here"

 

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"You hear coaches talk about Five Year Plans.  Well, my ‘Five Year Plan’ is that we need to win a whole bunch of games the next five years"

 

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"It had to do with the fact that I’ve always thought a lot of this place. I had a feeling in my heart about Rice. I came to interview, and I just felt a connection"


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"It’s when that kid makes that great play, and you watch them – they get up off the ground and they run – they run to their coach. And the look on their face you can’t see from the stands. But that’s why I coach"

By Paul T. Hlavinka
Webletter Editor

HOUSTON (Jan. 1) – Rice University Athletic Director Bobby May   introduced the Institute’s new football coach here Sunday in the person of former University of Tulsa assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Todd Graham.   May and Graham spoke for about half an hour in the "R" Room before an apparently wowed group of jaded media professionals and a crowd of supporters, current and former players and onlookers.

A 41-year-old father of a blended family of six, Coach Graham called his appointment as the seventeenth head coach in the 90-year history of Rice football "a dream come true."  In assuming the post, the native Texan with strong ties to Oklahoma follows the footsteps of John W. Heisman, Jess Neely, Ken Hatfield, and other men who strove, mostly with only intermittent success. 

This Young Man in a Hurry has big ideas and grandiose plans, however. "I want the Rice community to understand, more than anything, that my passion is to bring a winner here," Coach Graham told the crowd.  "Anything less than being Conference USA champions, and bowl champions, is unacceptable. Those high expectations are the way that we’re going to approach everything that we do."

"There are faces of people in the crowd where you can see the doubt. That’s fine. But two, three years from now, we’ll have all those things changed, and we’ll have restored the great tradition."

It was suggested early on that he hire another ‘Graham,’  Bobby May said, speaking of Rice baseball coach Wayne Graham, now a living legend and arguably the dean of U.S. college baseball coaches. And Coach May said he thought the University has wound up with a ‘Graham’ of virtually identical stripe.

"I think we did that in more ways than one," Bobby said. "Our new football coach  fits to perfection the profile that we developed for this job. He’s a winner, with strong Texas ties. He’s had success at private schools, both athletically and academically." 

"He helped choreograph turnarounds everywhere he’s been," the veteran Rice AD added, "at the high school level, at West Virginia, and most recently at Tulsa. He has a passion for football as a player and as a coach -- an incredible level. He comes highly recommended by his former players, and his peers in the coaching profession. Most of all, he’s a great fit for Rice University."

Appointment especially meaningful to old-time SWC fan

"I’ve dreamed of this day since I was in the seventh grade," Coach Graham told his audience, flush with emotion. The Mesquite native said he grew up weaned on Southwest Conference football. "And I get those memories of turning on the TV and watching Rice play Texas, and being so tied up in all the SWC games."

"So this was a big deal to me. Rice University was a big deal when I was growing up. It wasn’t only that it was in the Southwest Conference, it was the prestige of the school."

When one reads the published rankings and sees that Rice is consistently ranked among the top 15 or 20 universities in the country, of any size or stripe, the new head man noted, that cannot help but make one take pause.

"Believe me, it is something that you can recruit with," Coach Graham said. "And we are going to," he added, indicating that he and his staff will have every intention of turning what many see as a huge disadvantage – Rice’s stringent admissions requirements – into a recruiting advantage.

"This situation here is one that I’ve researched quite a bit," he said, "and there’s no doubt in my mind that we’re going to build a winner here. There are things in place that fit me to a ‘T.’ I appear to have a talent for coaching intelligent players. We had intelligent players at Tulsa. And we were able to coach them, to get them to improve."

Call it idealistic; perhaps call it even somewhat naive, but this young fellow believes sincerely that he can win, and win quickly, at Rice.

New head man has 'Five Year Plan' that starts with 'Win Now'

"You hear coaches talk about Five Year Plans," he noted with a grin. "Well, my ‘Five Year Plan’ is that we need to win a whole bunch of games the next five years."

"I mean, I’ve got a plan every day. My plan starts again, every day. And it all adds up to being successful in everything we do. And if you have a passion about that, and if you are willing to work, that’s the key to achieving it. If don’t have a passion for working, you will be miserable. Because we are going to work and have a passion about what we’re doing."

"But you’ve just got to chip at it, every day. And then you look up and you’re being succssful. You’re winning."

Being successful also necessarily implies a capability in building relationships, Coach Graham said. "You can’t just sit there and work hard and be disciplined, but stay put and not get out and build relationships with people."

"We’re going to get out there in the market place. I want to be involved, I want to meet every person I can meet. You can’t get things done if you don’t build relationships with people. And we’re going to build relationships with people. We’re going to get out there and build them, just one handshake at a time."

Nonetheless, the bottom line has it that people aren’t going to get fully involved until a team shows something on the field, he emphasized.  "So our plan is to go out there this next fall, and show something on the field. If we do that, the rest will all take care of itself."

How do you win? "You work hard," was Todd Graham’s reply. "There’s no substitute for it. And we’re going to work hard in practice, in recruiting. We’re going to work hard, every single day."

"It happens just one rep at a time, one practice at a time, one play at a time."

'Working hard' is well and good, but what about specifics?

One of Coach Graham’s stated goals is to produce the hardest-working, most disciplined, and best- conditioned football team in America, Bobby May noted.

That’s all well and good – but let’s get down to specifics. Just what will the 2006 model year Rice offense and defense look like? Well, for starters, the new Rice coach said, he and his staff will adapt to the materials that he has at hand – not force the issue the other way around.

And he does believe he’s got enough offensive talent on the current squad to be able to spread the ball around. That includes throwing the ball.

"You know, I tell people all the time that the reason we’re going to throw the football," the defensive expert said, "is because when you go out in the front yard with your kid, you don’t hand it off to him. You throw it to him."

That quip got a big laugh, but also a bemused reflection, from the press conference attendees.

"Offensively, I believe we can recruit guys that can run and catch the football. I believe we can recruit the one-back-type tailbacks here. I believe we’ve got guys here right now who can do that."

But the main message the new head man wants to bring with him, Rice’s idealistic young coach said, from the moment he arrives on campus, is this: "We’re going to win football games here, and we’re going to play great defense. We’re going to play a great kicking game. We’re going to take care of the football on offense. Our kids are going to play hard. And we’re going to be entertaining to watch. Those are our priorities."

"Our motto has been, everywhere I’ve coached: ‘We don’t talk about what we can’t do.’ We talk about what we can do, and what we do have. And that’s going to be our motto here."

"And you just put your head down; you develop a great attitude; you give great effort – and you look up, and you’ve been successful. That’s the simple plan."

Coach Graham’s biggest hire among assistant coaches clearly will be for the position of Offensive Coordinator. "I’ve got several in mind right now," he said. "But I’ll be involved in everything we’re doing – offense, defense, special teams, recruiting, everything."

Rice team called  'very close' despite winning only one game in '05

Oh, by the way – don’t sell this current group of Owl players short, the former Tulsa talent evaluator admonished. And after all, he’s been scouting them, recruiting them, and trying to figure out how to defense them for the past three years during his stint with Steve Kragthorpe.

"I think that this Rice team was very close. If you look at games this year, in the last half of the season – the Central Florida game was really close. The UTEP game was one they could have won. They were just really close to being able to get over the hump."

"It’s not a program, I think, that’s been decimated ; where there’s no talent, no hope. No way."

"I always thought that they played hard. I thought the Rice kids got after it well." Rather, Coach Graham said diplomatically, the situation was simply one where the introduction of new ideas, a fresh approach, and what he termed "modernizing" – read whatever you want into that – was necessary in order to breathe new life in the Rice program.

"A lot of that has to do with getting kids excited in recruiting," he noted. Recruit for your needs, adapt your needs to a realistic level, and build excitement – those are the keys for a successful recruiting haul, Rice’s new Pied Piper stated.

"When you go recruiting kids, you have to be realistic. It’s just like, defensively, I know why we ran a three-man front at Tulsa," he said, referring to the 3-3-5 defensive set that helped lead the Hurricane to the C-USA championship this year.

"What’s the hardest thing in the world, right now, for us to recruit, in Conference USA, is defensive linemen. Well, we only have to have three."

"And then our nose tackle can be a guy that’s six-foot, 280 pounds, and can whip anybody around, but the Texases and the OUs are never going to recruit a guy for that position that’s only six feet tall."

"With an odd front," he went on, "it gives you a chance to develop your schemes in a way that you are able to recruit to them, year in and year out. We can recruit those defensive back, outside linebacker, strong safety kids that can run."

"And then you have to be innovative. When you only have three down linemen, people usually think they can run over you, and they try to. They did that yesterday (in Tulsa’s Liberty Bowl win over Fresno State), and we had to draw up a few of ‘em in the dirt to get them stopped."

Tulsa powers-that-be tried hard to keep new Rice coach in the fold

Tulsa sports administrators apparently did everything they could to dissuade their valued defensive mastermind from heading southward.

"I probably could have stayed right where I was right now," Coach Graham replied to a reporter’s question, after a pause and a long sigh. "You know, Coach Kragthorpe is a very hot commodity right now, and that’s what they’ve told me the last five days; I’ve had that hammered into my head."

"But, like I said, this is a big deal to me. Rice University is a big deal to me. It’s one of those things where, I prayed about it; my wife and I prayed about it, and we just had a peace about it in the family."

"We’re just fired up about being here, and it is a big deal to me. This is a dream come true for me. That’s why it’s the right decision."

"Two weeks from now, the Tulsa job could come up. You never know how those things are.  And I would definitely have had an opportunity to be the next head guy there."

Wait a minute. Does this mean that, stoked-up Tulsa fans’ assertions that Graham was headed for a ‘dead-end job’ notwithstanding, one might reasonably extrapolate that the Rice job, despite current headache-inducing characteristics, was in the long run more – perhaps much more – attractive than coaching at the University of Tulsa? Todd Graham was too diplomatic to admit as much, but one could easily glean the implication from the thrust of his message.

"This job to me was a deal that had nothing to do with that," he demurred. "It had to do with the fact that I’ve always thought a lot of this place. I had a feeling in my heart about Rice. I came to interview, and I just felt a connection. I immediately felt connected with the place. I connected with the people here, and I frankly think I have something that can help the situation."

"And it just felt right for us," Coach Graham said, motioning over to his wife, Penny, seated next to the podium -- a highly attractive young lady (and mother of six) who just might be a shoo-in for Homecoming Queen next year, if the weanies have their say in the matter.

"You can see I’m a good recruiter," he said smiling, while Penny beamed.

New mentor brought in three already-hired assistants for show-and-tell

Also sitting next to the podium were three assistant coaches – three very young assistant coaches – who’ve already been rounded up and signed on to the new crew.

First, Coach Graham introduced Danny Phillips as his new defensive line coach. "Danny’s been with me since Allen High School," Coach noted, added that, in addtion to being defensive line coach here, he’ll also serve as one of his coordinators.

Next up came Jason Jones, who Coach Graham introduced as his defensive backs coach. "He coached at Alabama," Graham noted, "coaching defensive backs there. We got him to come to Tulsa for all of six months, and all he did was coach one of the top 15 pass defenses in the country."

Finally, Coach Graham introduced Jess Loepp. "Jess’s been with me the three years at Tulsa; he coached the safeties," Coach noted, "and I can’t tell you what a comfort it is for me to be able to come here today and not stand up here by myself, to bring a solid nucleus of a staff of guys who know how I’m going to do things; know how we’re going to treat kids, know what a passion we’re going to have for."

Now as a head coach in the manor house instead of a toiler in the vineyards, Coach Graham said he wants to impart to Rice players and their supporters the same feelings he’s been able to experience at Tulsa, this championship season.

"I can’t tell you what it felt like to walk out there last Saturday, and look behind me, and see 15,000 people from Tulsa," he said. "When I walked out to the first game three years ago, I could’ve hollered the defenses down from the press box and the players could have heard me, it was so empty."

"I can’t tell you what that feels like. And I told Bobby, when I come in, and see that young man sitting in that chair"  –  pointing to an Owl player sitting amongst his fellows and observing the proceedings -- "and take over a program that’s been down, you can see it in their eyes; it’s written on their forehead what’s wrong."

"And then when you become successful – I looked those Tulsa kids in the eyes yesterday and there was nothing more gratifying than that."

"To me, that’s what my passion is. It’s when that kid makes that great play, and you watch them – they get up off the ground and they run; they run to their coach. And the look on their face you can’t see from the stands. But that’s why I coach."

"I have a plan in place, and we’re ready to go."

"I’ve had about three hours of sleep, but I’m gunned up and ready to get out and start recruiting."

Todd Graham biography, squibs from Rice, Tulsa sources....

Graham joins one 'Army', has plan to enlist Owl fans in yet another

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" I don’t want you to have low expectations. I don’t want you to talk about the things we can’t do; I want you to talk about the things we can do"

HOUSTON (Jan. 12) – New Rice head coach Todd Graham greeted students and alumni here Wednesday before the Rice-UH basketball game, displaying all the fire and passion of an evangelistic preacher – albeit it perhaps more of the upbeat, Joel Osteen variety.

In fact, a content analysis of Coach Graham’s pep talk would reveal he uses the terms "fired up" and "passion" more than anything else in his vocabulary.

The new Owl mentor spoke to about 500 gathered, burger-munching, blue-clad enthusiasts here at Fox Gym, telling the group he was on the verge of enlisting each and every one of them in a crusade – oops, politically incorrect usage.

"This group is going to grow and grow and grow because we are going to win," Coach Graham told the crowd. "We won’t be denied. We’re going to approach things going a hundred miles an hour. That train’s moving forward, and we’re going to drag everybody here along with it. We will not take ‘no’ for an answer, and we’re going to win."

Coach Graham said he’d met with the entire Rice team for the first time earlier in the day. Most of the team was present at the rally, but in actuality got lost among the surprisingly large crowd.

"I just can’t tell you, coming here today and meeting with our players, and seeing in their eyes the excitement and the enthusiasm that they have, there’s no question but that we can get it done and we can be successful," TG said.

"But there’s just one thing I’m going to ask you to do. It’s that I don’t want you to have low expectations. I don’t want you to talk about the things we can’t do; I want you to talk about the things we can do."

Players, coaches, fans all can control attitude, effort

"One of the things that we can control," Coach noted, "is that you can control your attitude, and you can control your effort."

The new Rice head man frankly admitted that he’d encountered more pessimism than he would have preferred, in his first few days on the job.

"I’ve been here about a week, and just about everybody I’ve seen has told me what’s wrong with the place," he said. "We need to start talking about everything that’s right with this place. This is a great university, one of the very greatest. And I"ve experienced an unbelievable reception in the short time I’ve been out on the road recruiting."

"We had an unbelievable reception the other night, with about 600 Texas high school coaches, that are thrilled and fired up about one of their own getting an opportunity, in this great state and at this great university."

Coach Graham, in referring, obviously, to himself, was harkening back to the six years he served as head coach at Allen High School in north Texas. During that stint he coached several future Owls as schoolboys, including Chad Richardson and B. J. Forguson.

Rather than emphasizing the negative, Todd suggested a different approach. "Let’s talk about winning; let’s speak about it; let’s visualize winning," he said. "I’m going to call on you. I’m going to need your help. There’s things we need to get done."

Yeah, like money. Get out those wallets, Owly-birds. Put up or shut up.

"I’m going to be hitting that road and we’re going to sign a great recruiting class come February 1, and I’m going to be calling on you. We need you to get involved like you’ve never been before. We need you to be able to do more than you’ve ever done. And if you do that, we’ll get things accomplished, no question about that."

Coach Graham introduced almost-complete staff

Coach Graham then took time to introduce to the crowd his already-named members of his coaching staff, all of whom, including just-introduced Offensive Coordinator Major Applewhite, were present at the assembly.

Following same, two members of the student group "Autry’s Army" presented the new coaching staff each with their signature, blue "Army" t-shirts.

Ever the enthusiast, Coach Graham fired back, "One of the things you’re going to see, and it’s going to be a big change – we want to reach out. Our football team is going to be visible on campus, and build relationships with our student body. And we want to develop a rabid fan base of students in that stadium."

With that, blue t-hirts donned, Graham led his staff, to a man, over to Autry Court, where they took their seats on the third row of the Rice student section, fellow "Army" members surrounding them.

And guess who won the game.

--P.T.H.                Todd Graham introduction rally photos....

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Coach Graham parades his new staffers before the crowd of 500-plus.  From left to right, they are: David Beaty, Major Applewhite, Dean Jackson, Todd Dilbeck, Jason Jones, Jess Loepp and Andy Phillips.  Present but not pictured was Yancy McKnight

Coach Graham
introduces his
staff at rally

HOUSTON (Jan. 14) – Rice head coach Todd Graham introduced the bulk of his coaching staff to gathered students, players and Owl fans present for the pep rally held before the Rice-UH game Wednesday; that is to say, an hour or two before the Owl basketball team pummeled the Coogs into submission.  The two events combined fairly well to re-establish college sports supremacy on South Main for the city of Houston as to the immediate  future. Want more evidence? We herewith present Coach Graham’s verbatim capsule comments on the staffers present, as he introduced them. Coach Graham:

"You’re going to see my staff members on campus; you’ll be seeing them around town; we’re going to be doing everything that we can to get people moving in the direction where we want them to go."

"We will be the hardest working, most disciplined, best conditioned football team in the country, and we’ll get it done, because we’ve got great people to do it."

"We talk about the fact that you win through hard work, busting your tail every day, and having a passion about it. And so it was important to bring a strength coach that possesses those traits. And all of these guys are going to have twice as much energy as me, and twice as much passion about this program."

"But our new strength coach is a guy that was very successful as the football strength coach at Oklahoma State, and then proceeded, I think, to completely turn the Louisiana Tech program around this year. If you guys had to watch them, you saw them put it on Fresno State, too. He’s a guy that epitomizes having a hard head, and being a tough coach, and a guy who our kids are going to loved being trained by, and that’s Yancy McKnight, our new strength coach."

"He's a high-energy, no-nonsense type leader who'll be a vital part of future successes."

"My background as a Texas high school football coach molded me as being a teacher, and I consider myself a teacher. I have a passion for making a difference in young people’s lives. And when I got this job, there’s one guy that I told ‘I’m going to hire you whenever I get to be a head coach,’ the former head football coach and athletic director at Irving McArthur high school, our new wide receivers coach, David Beaty."

"Next I’d like to introduce our new quarterbacks coach and Offensive Coordinator, Major Applewhite."

"Major Applewhite --  just that name speaks for itself. He brings us instant credibility to where we want to go offensively."

"We want to spread the field and throw the football, and every quarterback and receiver in this state will be interested in Rice with Major as our offensive coordinator."

"We started talking with mutual friends, and he is a guy that I watched play as an unbelievable competitor on the field – and a winner. I sat down and talked to him, having had had several people in mind for our offensive coordinator job."

"But when I sat down and talked to him, within ten minutes I knew he was the man to lead our offense, to be our offensive coordinator. Just plain and simple, he’s a winner, and conducts himself with such great class, and poise, and character."

"We’re going to see maybe if we can turn him over to Yancy and get him back in shape to play, too!"

"Next is a guy that’s well known and well respected in the ranks of Texas high school football, a guy that’s been a close friend of mine for a long time, and who has great passion, our new running backs coach Dean Jackson from Hillcrest High School, Dallas Texas."

"Dean's a very hard-working guy who will be an outstanding recruiter. He's got strong Texas ties, another one of those Texas high school coaches who will really help us."

"He's worked with me before, knows the expectations and knows the passion and intensity of how we're going to do things."

"The last time you’ve seen this next guy, he had a jacket on and glasses, on Saturday Night Live – our Chris Farley look-alike, Todd Dilbeck, our new offensive line coach. Todd’s one of the best football coaches and teachers that I’ve ever coached with. And I knew when I came here I wanted him to be our offensive line coach. Our offensive linemen are going to love him. He coaches with a great passion."

"There are three more guys, I’ve saved them for last, because they really mean a lot to me. When you take on a completely new experience, a new adventure, you'd like some continuity.  And these guys have worked with me for the last three years at Tulsa. "

"And one of them’s been with me since Allen High School; he’s been with me everywhere I’ve been. When the call came from Rice, we were getting on the bus to go to the Liberty Bowl stadium, and Bobby (May) called. And I walked in there, and I just nodded my head. And, man, they said, ‘Coach, we’re going with you. We really want to go with you.’"

"They didn’t even ask how much they were going to pay. They didn’t care about that. And these guys coached the number one defense in Conference USA this last year – and the Liberty Bowl champs."

"And to have those guys come here with me, and to give up good jobs to come here, means a lot to me."

"These three men are Jason Jones, our defensive back coach, Jess Loepp, who’ll be our tight ends coach, and Danny Phillips, who’ll be our defensive line coach and special teams coordinator. Andy has been with me the longest, I think seven years, at Allen High School, a good year at West Virginia University, and with me at Tulsa – and now with me at Rice."

"I’ve still got two more positions to go. You guys will be fired up about the next two guys. We should be able to get the information out about them shortly. All of these guys, I could say I would want my son to play for these men."

"These are guys who possess the same type philosophies of positive attitude and energy as I do. They come from diverse settings, from a conference and bowl champion at Tulsa, to successful high school programs in Texas and Oklahoma."

Editor’s Note: Later this week, Coach Graham also announced the hire of Paul Randolph as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, also that of Mike Vaught as assistant athletic director/football operations.

The following assistant coach biographies are available online:    Yancy McKnight
Jason Jones      Jess Loepp    Paul Randolph      Danny Phillips    Major Applewhite
Mike Vaught     Todd Dilbeck

Todd Graham introduction rally photos....


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University of Tulsa assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Todd Graham is likely to be named the new head man at Rice, sources have reported

Press conference set
for 2:00 p.m. Sunday

Job limelight
focuses upon
Tulsa's Graham

HOUSTON (Dec. 31, 10:25 a.m.; updated Jan. 1, 11:35 a.m.) -- As the clock ticks down to the new year, speculation, and now the limelight,  on South Main regarding the vacant head football coach's slot appears to be focused squarely upon the University of Tulsa's assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator, Todd Graham. Multiple sources have now reported that the rapidly-rising 41-year-old formally has been offered and has accepted the head coaching job at Rice.

Rice officials have scheduled a press conference at the R-Room above Rice Stadium for 2:00 p.m. Sunday to announce the decision and introduce Coach Graham to local media and interested onlookers.

Local Fox affiliate Channel 26 announced Graham will be guest on its Sunday evening "News at Nine," which in actuality tonight will run from 9:30-10:30 p.m.

Graham flew to Houston overnight from Memphis, where  his C-USA champion Golden Hurricane defeated Fresno State, 31-24, Saturday afternoon in the Liberty Bowl.  The new Rice head man had said he would not discuss the job until after the bowl game was over.

When approached by reporters after the game, Coach Graham still would not confirm his acceptance of the job, stating that he preferred to focus the attention upon the accomplishment of Tulsa's CUSA champion and bowl winning team.  However, he ended the brief interview by signing off with the words, "It's been great."

The circumstances clarified somewhat on Saturday morning when the Webletter learned that current members of the football team had received an email from Rice Athletic Director Bobby May informing them of a team meeting which is to take place at 1 p.m. Sunday, New Year’s Day.

In today’s edition, the Tulsa World reported that a source within the University of Tulsa football program said two days ago that Graham had, indeed, been offered the head coaching job at Rice .

That Saturday edition of the World also reported that Coach Graham, when reached at his hotel Friday, would not confirm that he had taken or been offered the job, and that he refused to comment, except to say he was focused on TU's game against Fresno State in Saturday's Liberty Bowl.

According to Friday's Houston Chronicle, at least four candidates have interviewed to replace Ken Hatfield -- San Diego coach Jim Harbaugh, TCU offensive coordinator Mike Schultz, Texas Tech offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes and Texas A&M offensive coordinator Les Koenning.

Harbaugh accepted a multiyear contract extension to remain at USD after it was reported that he contacted Rice officials after returning to San Diego after his on-campus interview, stating that he was turning down the job for personal reasons. Harbaugh was quoted as saying the Rice coaching position was "the right job at the wrong time."  There has been no confirmation whether the former NFL quarterback was actually offered the Rice job.

Tech's Dykes reportedly withdrew name from hat

Meanwhile, sources reported that Tech’s Sonny Dykes contacted Rice on Friday to withdraw his name from consideration.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Coach Dykes said he became frustrated at not hearing from Rice for a week after interviewing for the job, and that he and Tech coach Mike Leach decided that "we had to do something."

"I told them I didn’t want to be under anymore consideration," Dykes was quoted as saying. "I hadn’t heard anything from them. It got to a point where we’re getting ready to play this game [against Alabama in Monday’s Cotton Bowl]. I didn’t want it to be a distraction."

In Houston for TCU's EV1 Bowl game with Iowa State, Frog offensive coordinator Mike Schultz remained low-key and respectful in his comments regarding his current position in limbo. "I'm honored to be a candidate," Schultz said, according to sources.

Schultz’s head coach Gary Patterson was quick to thump the tub over his highly-respected OC. "No one has asked me," Patterson told the Dallas Morning News.  "But the best thing about Coach Schultz for Rice is that he's from Houston and he knows how to recruit around this state. He'd be a good fit."

Schultz, who has been TCU's offensive coordinator for the past five seasons, reportedly visited Rice on Monday and was interviewed by several athletic department staffers and at least one of the search committee members.

Todd Graham has been Tulsa’s defensive chief and assistant head coach through Steve Kragthorpe's three years as head coach. That span has produced a 20-17 record, two winning seasons, two bowl appearances and a Conference USA championship, the school's first league title in 20 years – not to mention three straight spankings of the Owls after the Feathered Flock had simply dominated Tulsa in previous years.

In 2003, Tulsa jumped 49 places in total defense, from 109th to 60th nationally. The ‘Cane also gave up a touchdown fewer per game than the year before and climbed 28 spots in passing defense, from 44th to 16th.

After a defensive swoon last season, the Hurricane erupted once again in 2005, playing its best defense under the Steve Kragthorpe's tutelage,  while going 8-4 and winning the C-USA title. The Hurricane rose from 101st to 42nd in scoring -- allowing 10 fewer points per game than in 2004 -- and from 80th to 37th in total defense.

Thanks in no small part to Coach Graham’s defensive philosophy, Tulsa forced 34 turnovers this past season, goof for fourth nationally, and tied for fifth nationally with 20 pass interceptions.

Graham had stop at West Virginia, coached high school ball in Texas

Graham worked a similar revitalization in his previous coaching stop at West Virginia. As a co-defensive coordinator in 2002, he helped the Mountaineers rank 30th nationally in rushing defense and 33rd in total defense while going 9-4, with wins over nationally ranked Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh.

Before moving to WVU, Graham was a highly successful high school coach and athletic director at Allen (Texas) High School for six years (1995-2000). His teams made five playoff appearances and won two bi-district championships. In 2000, Allen posted a 9-3 record and captured the 5A Division II bi-district title while defeating four teams ranked among the Top 10 in the state of Texas.

A Mesquite, Texas, native, Graham coached and later played at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma, helping the Tigers win an NAIA national title in 1993.   Coach Graham holds a master's degree in education from East Central.

Oh, and Todd Graham’s an Aggie, too  – a Poteet Aggie, that is, because for three years, from 1988 to 1990, he served as an assistant coach the the south central Texas 2A school.

Graham confessed his desire to become a head coach to local media. "That's been a goal of mine," he told the Tulsa World earlier this season. "From the time that I was a little boy, I've always wanted to be a Division I football coach. That's my ultimate goal."

Coach Graham has a reputation as an outstanding recruiter, and Tulsa insiders saw him as a logical candidate for the Tulsa head coaching job if Kragthorpe should move on.

--P.T.H.


Letter to Owl Club members
(sent Dec. 20)

Dear Owl Club Members:

 

On November 30, Ken Hatfield resigned after 12 seasons as the Owls’ head football coach. He started the news conference by saying, “I hope that today the Rice administration, the Board, the faculty, and all the friends will rally around this new opportunity and give the current players and the future recruits the support needed to be successful in Conference USA.”

 

Since you are an important member of the “team behind the teams,” this email is designed exclusively for the Owl Club team. The Rice Athletic Department, through the leadership of Bobby May, would like to provide you with this update to share where we are to date regarding the search for the next head football coach at Rice University.

 

The committee to select the next head coach is assembled. We have representation from all areas of campus: faculty, staff, university leaders, student athletes, alumni, and friends of Rice Athletics. The committee is now charged with trying to narrow down the names and resumes of more than 70 applicants/nominations.

 

Much behind-the-scene work has been done in the weeks leading up to the formation of the committee. Many thanks for the hundreds of phone calls of support and interest from our dedicated Owls fan base that Bobby May and staff have fielded from alumni and friends of Rice Athletics regarding possible applicants to fill the vacancy.

 

The caliber of nominations and applicants is quite impressive.  Since we want to respect the privacy of all applicants, we cannot share names; however, we can say that we have a great talent pool with a cross-section of NFL, college, and high school coaches that hold positions of head coach, offensive/defensive coordinator, and director of football operations to name a few.

 

As we move into the last few weeks of 2005, we will be working diligently with the committee to ensure the right person is selected to lead your Owls’ football team. Our timeline is immediate, so we can be competitive in having a quality recruiting class for 2006. Our hope is to announce the new coach early January 2006, if not before.

 

Thank you for your continued support of Rice Athletics and our dedicated student-athletes.

 

Go Rice Owls!

 

Sincerely,

The Owl Club Team

http://riceowls.collegesports.com/owlclub/owlclub-brochure.html

 

Rice not without major resources
in search for new football mentor

Facilities, financial issues can be addressed, AD says

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Bobby May:  "We're not going to put any limitations on the parameters"

HOUSTON (Dec. 3) – "The search for a new coach will begin immediately."

With that announcement, Rice University Athletic Director Bobby May launched the school's mission to replace departing football coach Ken Hatfield with an individual who of necessity will need to possess extraordinary, some might even say near-supernatural, qualities.

The yardstick for success at Rice appears to be quite a bit more complex than at the football factories.

The former Rice mentor had that imperative firmly in view during his tenure, he told gathered media, players and supporters Wednesday. "If you're at Texas, it's being in the top five, you know, every year."

At Rice, on the other hand, the first requirement is to recruit and matriculate actual student- athletes who graduate, Coach Hatfield told the crowd. "Number two, Rice's next coach must go out and be competitive when he plays people who are like-minded – not necessarily Texas, but other people that are like-minded – and have an equal chance of winning."

Bobby May, who's filled the position of Athletic Director at Rice, now, going on his 18th year, expressed similar sentiments. "When measuring a program's success, we sometimes forget that it's more than accumulating 'W's," he said. "Successful programs build character, develop leadership skills, and prepare student-athletes for life after athletics."

The Rice AD will organize a search committee immediately, and that group will conduct a national canvassing. The committee will be composed of what the Rice AD termed "representatives of constituent groups" associated with the University.

"We're not going to put any limitations on the parameters," Bobby said. "We'll try to find the very best possible candidate, who is the very best possible fit. It will done as fast as we can make it; while at the same time giving us plenty of time to assess the field; assess the candidates, and do the due diligence you need to do in order to have a successful search."

"We need somebody that fits into the culture at Rice," Coach May added. "It would be someone that's highly successful, has impeccable integrity, who knows how to win, who eats, sleeps and drinks football, but understands the academic challenges that student athletes will face at Rice, and is prepared to come in-- knowing all that-- and feel they can be successful here."

Ah, but what about the facilities issues? Although, realistically speaking, Rice still has one of the finest on-campus, football- only facilities in the country in our beloved Rice Stadium, the old girl, one must admit, is getting a little long in the tooth and the worse for the wear. The field surface, bleacher condition, and scoreboard are obviously in need of first aid. And the ancillary facilities – weight room, offices, practice fields, and so on, though adequate, could use a little sprucing up, too, at least according to some.

Consequently, some measure of commitment as to facilities improvement will have to be made to any viable incoming coaching candidate, Bobby said.

"Obviously, it's more important than just finding an individual to come in and replace Ken," the veteran Rice AD said. "We need to do as much as we can do, in order to create an environment here, that will be of interest to prospective coaching candidates. So we have a lot of work to do outside of the search, to maximize our chances for success going forward."

Revamping can't come all at once

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Rice Athletic Director Bobby displays somber mien during Coach Hatfield's resignation announcement

However, don't expect everything to happen at once, he warned. "You know they're big things," he said. "You're not going to do them all at once. But we need to do a few things; as many as we can, and as soon as we can, in order to have a chance to attract the very best possible candidate here at Rice."

Coach Hatfield, speaking in regard to the facilities issue, was equally sanguine. "Naturally, there are a lot of things that you would like to have," he said. "Everybody has those things on their wish lists. Problem has been, a lot of things have changed in intercollegiate athletics in recent years. Part of the difficulty has been with the conferences that we have moved around in, the past few years. That has hurt us in recruiting a good bit."

"But we found a home in Conference USA. And I think, seeing the way we played against Central Florida and UTEP, we can be competitive in this league – it's a good place, here."

"We just want something more, right now."

Note, incidentally, the continued use of the first person plural by the now-resigned Rice coach. Somehow, that seems a positive.

But there appears to be another side to the facilities equation. The Rice sports administration has been forced to respond to belt-tightening ultimata by increasing the number of so-called ‘body bag’ games in any given season.

In ‘06, if the proposed schedule stands, the matter has reached what most Rice fans believe to be absurd lengths, as the Owls open the season at UCLA; then play Texas at Reliant Stadium – a virtual, if not theoretical, road game; and then, for good measures, travel to Tallahassee to take on what’s bound to be a riled-up Florida State Seminole team, what with their four-loss season this year.

Bobby hinted that some relief might be in the offing – if his response as to the matter is to be taken literally.

"You need to strike a balance." he said. "We have a revenue issue here at Rice. Many of you had seen the small crowds that we had here. When you have directives from the Board, that you have to meet targets, then you have to take the actions that will enable you to give your best shot at meeting those targets."

"At the same time, you have to not put your coach and your team regularly at a disadvantage."

"You've got short-term issues and you've got long-term issues. Since I've been the AD we've approached that issue different ways. Certainly every weekend you go out and you would like to be in a position to feel like you can win."

"And I hope at some point, our program will feel that way regardless of who we line up against. We need to see that kind of progress; we need to see that kind of momentum built. But it's just one of the challenges that we have to face.  We have a financial challenge; we have a competitive challenge, and we have to show that what we said we were going to do, that we're going to deliver."

But something’s got to give. The athletics administration appears to be caught between the horns of a dilemma – how to increase support and attendance while at the same time balancing the Board of Trustees-imposed austerity program with the need to avoid practically brutalizing Rice’s student-athletes while still realizing adequate revenues.

The first place that’s got to give--and has, Coach May implied, without saying so directly, is in the approach of the Board of Trustees. The Board, after all, did put its money where its mouth was by ponying up Coach Hatfield’s contractual buyout.

Key member says Board is on board

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Ken Hatfield:  "I think right now is the time for anybody who ever claimed to be a Rice football fan, to back up what you say, and to come out"

Key Rice Board of Trustees member Bucky Allshouse, a former defensive back for the Owls, said this week that Rice Athletics should, indeed, expect the solid support of the Board  -- including Board Chairman Jim Crownover -- during this crucial interregnum.

"The Board is completely behind Rice Athletics, and the support is broader than what some have supposed, " he told KHOU’s Matt Musil.

Bobby May concurred, saying that support, both financial and otherwise, was consistently strong throughout the University structure, despite the usual and typical posturings of a small cadre of faculty members. As for them, so what else is new. They’re at Duke, they’re at Stanford, they’re at Northwestern – for that matter they’re even at places like the University of Texas.

"We have great support from this university," Bobby insisted.   "There are some people that don't provide the same level of support, but by and large I think Rice University wants to be successful in everything it does, whether it's academics or athletics. I think Rice officials are very proud with what's been accomplished with Rice athletics recently, and in the near term – certainly in the last 15 years."

"I don't think it makes sense to have a program at Rice that doesn't strive to be the very best, and I think that's what Rice wants to see."

Certainly the view of a small, albeit somewhat vocal minority – that athletics-versus-academics is a zero-sum game, does not sway the day in the offices that count.

"I think, certainly since I've been here, and probably a long time before that, there's always been an element that wasn't as excited about intercollegiate athletics as most of the people in this room," Bobby told the press contingent Wednesday. "Clearly – but that doesn't mean it doesn't have a place; that doesn't mean it can't be successful; that doesn't mean it's not going to be supported."

"It's just kind of a fact of life. You're going to have some people who prefer something other than athletics; you'll have some who are just rabid fans, who think about nothing but athletics. So it's a mix; it's a balance; and we feel we have the support here from the university, that we need to be successful."

So never mind a small contingent of the chattering classes, the conclusion goes – it’s time to roll up the sleeves and get to work.

"We need to be able to get our ducks in a row; we need to be able to present the best face we can to the people that will have an interest in this job," Bobby said. "We need to make as many commitments as we can in order to make this job compelling. I think we have so much going for us; it's a great institution; a great history; a great new conference; lots of positives – and we need to capitalize on all of them."

And in that regard, Rice sports administrators are on schedule and ready to make immediate progress, Coach May added. "We are on  the timetable," he asserted. "We are trying, as we speak, to get as many of these things lined up as possible."

In summary, what all who are interested in Rice athletics need to bring to the table, right now, perhaps was best expressed by an old hand at intercollegiate athletics who’s plenty familiar with what Bobby May termed "the Rice culture" – and that’s no-one but Kenny Hatfield himself.

"What is needed, more than anything else," he said in concluding his swan song, "is the vigor of all the fans and the people who have followed Rice, and who can follow Rice, and everybody come together. After one year in Conference USA , we know the teams we are playing, so it's a situation now, where, if everybody's pulling together, we have the best opportunity for success."

"And I think sometimes, whatever the reason, you see other teams, other people go through it; I think right now is the time for anybody who ever claimed to be a Rice football fan, to back up what you say, and to come out. There's no reason for anybody who's ever followed Rice football, in the past; no reason for anybody who wants Rice to succeed, not to step up to the plate right now, and say, ‘let's get behind them; let's win this conference, let's go out and be another Central Florida, go from 1 and 10 to a championship next year.'"

--P.T.H.



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Announces resignation before somber crowd in R-Room


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"I first talked to them about being thankful to God, that they have had a chance to play college football, because not everyone has that opportunity"

HOUSTON (Nov. 30, 6:30 p.m.) -- In an atmosphere that can be described as very nearly funereal but not without its upbeat moments, Rice head coach of football Ken Hatfield announced his resignation today before gathered media, staff, players and friends in the Rice Stadium R-Room.

In so doing, the long-time Rice coach expressed himself in a manner as positive as any human being rationally could muster under the circumstances.

"Today I am resigning as the head football coach at Rice University," Coach Hatfield announced. "I hope that today the Rice administration, the Board, the faculty, and all the friends of the University will rally around this new opportunity, and give the current players, and the future recruits, the support needed to be successful in Conference USA."

"That’s important," he added, chiming in a theme that doubtless will be expressed by many in the coming days, dealing with the need for support for Rice athletics from as many quarters as possible, from its staunchest, long-time boosters to the most remote of alumni and least involved of current students.

Rice Athletic Director Bobby May mirrored those expressions in his comments to media during a question-and-answer session held after the formal announcement. But first, he expressed his unqualified admiration for the manner in which Coach Hatfield, as is always the case, conducted himself.

"The decision Ken announces today is his own," Bobby told the crowd, which included Coach Hatfield's wife, Sandy, his brother, Dick, and about 40 members of the current Owl team, in addition to media, staff and sundry supporters and university officials. "It was totally unselfish, and what he felt was in the best interest of the program. The discussion surrounding his decision was amicable, never adversarial."

Coach refers to lessons imparted

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"The discussion surrounding his decision was amicable, never adversarial"

It was toward those Owl players present that Coach Hatfield directed the bulk of his prepared remarks, although the implications were obvious for all to perceive.

"College football is all about learning," the Rice mentor said. "Rice’s players are expected to succeed in class every day, and at the same time to improve every day as a football player. Those are our goals."

Coach said that he felt honored to have coached "all these guys, right here, and promise you the greatest joy I had was traveling with them, from California to Boise, wherever, and listening to the compliments they received by everyone we came into contact with, from the airlines and on."

"Hearing of the quality they showed did my heart as good as anything that ever happened."

"I hope that they learned a lot of leadership traits from the game of football. When I spoke with them today, I first talked to them about being thankful to God, that they have had a chance to play college football, because not everyone has that opportunity."

"In being thankful, I encouraged them to be a good role model for young people to look up to, those who aspire to be something such as they, a great Rice football player and a great Rice student."

"That’s a tremendous responsibility, and I hope they’ll never forget it."

The veteran Rice coach told the crowd that, in a team meeting with his players held shortly before the onset of the press conference, another thing that he brought up and discussed with his men was about excellence – true excellence, not just the rah-rah stuff.

"We talked about playing your best, one play at a time. That’s the main characteristic of a champion," he noted, against nodding toward the morose group of young men.

Coach Hatfield couldn’t help but express regrets at the ones that got away – a burdensome factor when playing a tough, Division 1A schedule under rigorous academic limitations.

"When I looked back, yesterday, and looked at all the games we could have won," he said, "I saw we were one play away from winning eight games three years ago, seven last year and seven this past year – it reminded me that football truly is a game of inches where a single play can make all the difference."

"That’s why you learn to play the very best that you have in you, one play at a time – in practice. And if you do so, the scores of your games take care of themselves."

Devoting oneself to a cause while remaining an individual was an important theme of Coach Hatfield’s program, he stated. "These guys were all part of putting the team first, in everything that they did," he emphasized. "It’s said that when you’re part of a cause that’s bigger than yourself, and you learn to participate unselfishly, you learn the great lesson of being a success in life."

"And that’s what they have learned."

"And I hope that they will apply all of those things as they go about their personal lives and their careers. They’re great people."

The players gave Coach Hatfield a standing ovation after he completed his prepared statement.

Coach known for quiet religious strength

The long-time Rice coach has been renowned for his quiet, but strong, religious strength and observance, and many of his players shared such disposition, the Rice squad maintaining typically the largest per capita membership in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. So it would have been totally out of character for Ken Hatfield not to depart without a thankful reference.

" I thank my God for giving me the talent and ability to live on this earth and to be able to play the great game of football," he told the group. "I’ve enjoyed untold moments and memories, both as a player and as a coach, through the game of football."

The former Rice coach (how strange it is to say that) went down a long list of extended thank-yous, but he began, quite naturally, with Sandy Hatfield, his wife and help-mate, who undoubted suffered every loss and every media and alumni barb with twice the intensity and sharpness than did her husband, a tough, old Arkansan.

"I am particularly indebted to my lovely wife, Sandy, who’s been with me on the sidelines for 37 years," Coach Hatfield said. "She’s been my wife, my companion, my friend – she is everything to me." 

The 62-year-old native of Helena, Arkansas, became Rice's coach in 1994, succeeding Fred Goldsmith. The 1-10 mark in 2005 was the team's worst during Hatfield's tenure and the Owls' poorest mark since going 0-11 under Jerry Berndt in 1988.

Rice lost 14 straight games between 2004-05, but ended what had been the nation's longest Division I-A losing streak with a 42-34 win over Tulane on Nov. 12.

Attendance at 70,000-seat Rice Stadium dwindled this year. Rice averaged 10,072 fans at its five home games, an all-time low in 56 seasons, and the home finale against UCF on Nov. 19 drew only 8,267.

Hatfield went 55-78-1 in 12 seasons at Rice, including 7-4 seasons in 1997 and '98, and an 8-4 record in 2001.

Older Rice fans can remember Ken Hatfield as a star football player in his own right, as he earned All-American honors as a defensive back and kick returner at the University of Arkansas. His first head coaching job was at Air Force, and he followed up a very successful tenure there with stints Arkansas and Clemson. He finished this season fifth among active I-A coaches with 168 career victories.

--P.T.H.

Local TV outlets report Hatfield out;
official announcement said pending
;
press conference set for 3:30 pm Wed
Media buzz mounting


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Ken Hatfield: will he stay or will he go?

HOUSTON (Nov. 29, 10:42 p.m.) – Houston’s Fox 26 led a brief but consistent parade of local television newscasts Tuesday night all reporting that Rice head coach Ken Hatfield, indeed, has resigned – or is in the process of working out the details of his resignation – and that a public announcement to such effect is imminent.

On Fox 26's 9:45 evening sportscast, sports anchor Mark Berman reported what he termed a confirmation of that same TV outlet’s report on Monday evening, to the effect that Coach Hatfield’s resignation is a certainty, and that the public announcement "may come as soon as tomorrow" – i.e. Wednesday.

Berman said that he personally asked Coach Hatfield,  Tuesday morning after the press conference, if he was resigning, and that he "declined comment." He also said that he asked Bobby May the same question later today, and Bobby also declined to comment.

The Fox sports anchor added that the apparent reason why Coach Hatfield did not say anything about the resignation Tuesday is because, first, he wanted to have a meeting with his assistants to discuss their futures, and second, that Rice officials were, at the time, trying to talk Coach Hatfield out of resigning, but that the decision to resign was Ken's, and his alone.

Moments later, KPRC-TV sports anchor Randy McIlvoy reported Coach Hatfield’s resignation as the lead story of his regular evening sportscast at 10:25 p.m.  McIlvoy stated the reason that the fact of the resignation was not made public on Tuesday was because "the lawyers were still in the process of completing the details" on Coach Hatfield separation agreement.

KPRC showed a video clip of Coach Hatfield’s verbal exchange with Houston Chronicle sportswriter M. K. Bower during the morning press conference, during which the veteran Rice coach became more than slightly irritated at the Chronicle Rice Beat reporter and challenged his line of questions (for a summary of the exchange, see our story below, and also M.K. Bower’s brief report in Tuesday’s Chronicle late online editions.)

The KPRC sports anchor said that he’d spoken with Rice Athletic Director Bobby May Tuesday afternoon,  and during the course of the conversation May had expressed irritation at the fact that Coach Hatfield had called the 11 a.m. press conference without consulting Rice athletics or administration officials. KPRC quoted Bobby, as of Tuesday afternoon, as saying, "At this point, Ken Hatfield is our coach. There is nothing more to say than that."

However, the report added, May stated that there was "some confusion over the situation" and that further communications and negotiations were in the works.

At the same time, KHOU’s Gifford Nielsen reported the Hatfield resignation story as a followup to his regular newscast basketball report. After giving the Rice-Prairie View score (the Owls won, 67-58) over a brief film clip of the game, Nielsen added, "Speaking of Rice...." and then basically repeated a condensed version the same information as had been given by KPRC moments earlier.

However, KHOU is carrying an online video clip of Coach Hatfield's opening statement made at his 11 a.m. Tuesday press conference, linked below.

Rice athletics department officials in attendance at the Rice-Prairie View basketball  stated their unawareness of Coach Hatfield’s status, but a former Thresher sports editor stated he had heard of the fact of Coach Hatfield’s resignation on local radio reports earlier in the evening.

A press conference has been scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the R-Room.

--P.T.H.

Link to KHOU's audio/video of Ken Hatfield's Tuesday 11 a.m. news conference...look.gif (159 bytes)

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Coach Hatfield faces media in Tuesday's press conference
Hatfield:  Let's get ready to play UCLA
No personnel, policy changes announced

HOUSTON (Nov. 29) -- Rice head coach Ken Hatfield's much-anticipated   press conference came and went with the veteran Rice mentor's deflection of any questions  perceived to be hostile, and an outright announcement that no coaching or other personnel changes are in the offing.

Coach Hatfield, in response to writers' questions, attributed Rice's 1-10 season on the inexperience of his players, and pointed to better times ahead with the return of over 93 per cent of this year's squad members for next season.

"I think the real focus will be on improving defensively, and we've got people backed up now, and that's got to be a real plus for us," he said.   "I think we get a lot of skill people back."

Another thing the long-time Rice coach pointed out was the relative closeness of numerous losses during his tenure at Rice.  "Field goal kicking has not been consistent for us, and that's been true the whole time we've been here, with the possible exception of when we had Derek Crabtree."

"I've looked back and we've lost 16 or 17 games because of one missed field goal.  They've been that close."

Status quo considered acceptable, with added experience

A local print reporter asked Coach Hatfield whether he thought the status quo would be perceived as an acceptable alternative, given the fact that the team has continued to lose more and more of its games in each of the past four years.  

"Yes, I do," Coach Hatfield responded tersely. 

When asked what he based such conclusion on, he replied, "My experience in coaching for 40 years.  What would YOU base it on, in your experience?"

The reporter responded that he based his question on the premise that recent history would show that the program is going the wrong direction.

"Alright, then, in recent history," Coach responded,  "how many games have come down to one play making the difference, one way or the other?   How many games, in the last three years, have come down to win or lose on one play?   Have you ever researched that?"

When the reporter said he hadn't, Coach Hatfield replied, "Well, you ought to do that."

This year, the amended offensive schemes were largely successful, the Rice head coach averred.  "There wasn't any doubt that we threw the ball better; we did a lot better job in the shotgun."

Defensively, any possible tactical changes for '06 will be based upon an assessment of personnel in spring drills, Coach noted.  "When we put the three-man line in, we only had about four or five healthy defensive linemen. Now we have redshirt freshmen coming up to play, although what we finally decide to do will depend upon who we sign."

"Players make the plays," he said, "so that means we have to do what we can to get the best players on the field, defensively."

Upticks in record said not result of changes in strategy

When Hatfield-coached teams rebounded from losing seasons to win seven or eight games, earlier during his term at Rice, he noted, very little was doing in the way of changing offensive or defensive sets, which could be attributable in any degree to the improved record.  Rather, he said, it was simply a matter of more experienced performers on the field who made the best of their talents.

When queried about the possibility of playing at home next year in front of crowds that might be even smaller than the few who came this season, he dismissed the attendance issue by saying, "You look back -- when, in the last 20 years, has Rice ever played before big crowds?  That's never been any different."

Recruits come to Rice for the educational experience it offers in the classroom, he went on, and the personal links and experiences it offers on the playing field.   Anybody who feels he has to be playing before 80,000 people -- and for whom such takes preference over the quality of his educational experience -- won't be interested in coming to Rice to begin with.

"We have four people who've committed to us early, and, throughout the season, they've never wavered, despite what they saw from us on the field."

In fact, Coach Hatfield said, a 1-10 season can even be turned into a recruiting 'plus', in that the really talented recruits will feel that they can come in and play right away, and they know they'll get every opportunity to do so from Ken Hatfield's staff, he said.

"I think we did a heck of a job in preparing for the UH game," the Rice coach added, "and I think if we go out and score and make it 17-0, then you've got a whole different ball game.  But we didn't.  We fumble the ball on the one yard line; we weren't able to hold them down there, and that's one of those things that happens."

"It's kind of symbolic of the whole year."

Coach Hatfield observed that the rugged non-conference schedule was particularly taxing on the youngsters who were forced into action early.  "Starting the year off at UCLA -- they're having a great year and could beat Southern Cal this week.   And I think also we had a little tough time playing a Texas team that I think is still pretty good, last time I looked."

"And so it was hard to gain a lot of confidence for our young players.   But I think as time went on they got better.  I think that once we got started in the conference schedule -- we missed our one nonconference home game in September with Navy; wound up playing that as our first home game the middle of October, which is the latest we've ever played."

"But we stayed in the fight; we continued to improve.  I think when you look at Conference USA, we saw that we could play with everybody in this league. Whether it was our comeback at East Carolina or whether it be our chance to beat UTEP or Central Florida, we have now gone through the conference for a year and we're in good shape to be competitive in the league next year."

--P.T.H.

Garrett says Syp richly deserving of all-league honor

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John Syptak got call from league office -- that said, 'you're first-team all-conference'

HOUSTON (Dec. 1) -- John Syptak, senior defensive end of the Rice Owls was honored this week by being named to the first team Conference-USA in a poll of the media and coaches of the conference. John, a former standout at Bellville High in Austin County, was the only Rice Owl named to the first team.

Syptak led the Rice Owls in tackles this year with 72, tackles for losses with 10, and his 4 quarterback sacks tied him for third place all-time in Rice history. His accomplishments are even more remarkable when you consider that he was double-teamed on virtually every play this season.

One of John's teammates was especially proud of him. Garrett Dornan, a teammate of John's both at Rice and at Bellville, commended John for the award. "There is no doubt Syp deserves this honor. He has worked so hard at being a good football player and all the hard work is paying off," Garrett said. "And the good thing about Syp is that he has been so humble throughout all of his publicity and I believe that is part of the reason he has been so successful. He was never complacent and was always trying to improve his game."

Garrett and John were teammates since their middle-school days, beginning in the 8th grade. "It makes me so happy for Syp that he got that award. We have been through so much together while playing football together. I feel like I won a piece of that award with him," mused Dornan.

--Mark Anderson

 

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