Hat­field a wise voice for any foot­ball de­ci­sion

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - WALLY HALL

It was a mild sur­prise when Ken Hat­field was named to the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off com­mit­tee, but not be­cause he isn’t qual­i­fied or de­serv­ing.

It is just that Hat­field has led a very quiet life since re­tir­ing from coach­ing in 2005.

Truth is he may be the most qual­i­fied per­son on the com­mit­tee that helps de­ter­mine what four teams make the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off.

Hat­field, a na­tive of Arkansas who spent most of his for­ma­tive years in He­lena, was an out­stand­ing ath­lete. Ev­ery­one knows he played foot­ball for the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville and was an out­stand­ing de­fen­sive back who led the na­tion in punt re­turns in 1963 and 1964.

Men­tion punt to any Ra­zor­back fan and he will want to talk about Oct. 17, 1964, in Austin, Texas, when Arkansas and Texas were both 5-0. Mid­way through the sec­ond quar­ter, Hat­field took a 47yard punt and re­turned it 81 yards to give the Hogs a 7-0 lead. In the fourth quar­ter, Fred­die Mar­shall passed 34 yards to Bobby Crock­ett for a 14-13 win.

The Ra­zor­backs went un­de­feated and were named na­tional cham­pi­ons by the Foot­ball Writ­ers As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica, which un­like The As­so­ci­ated Press did its fi­nal poll af­ter bowl sea­son.

Hat­field also played bas­ket­ball, base­ball and ran track. He and his brother Dick, also an ath­lete, spent count­less hours hunt­ing and fish­ing, too.

Then came a 37-year coach­ing ca­reer, in­clud­ing 27 as a head coach, but Hat­field fell into coach­ing al­most by ac­ci­dent.

In col­lege, Hat­field was an all-around pop­u­lar guy. He was a mem­ber of Sigma Chi fra­ter­nity and in the ROTC pro­gram. Upon grad­u­a­tion with a busi­ness and ac­count­ing de­gree, the aca­demic All-Amer­i­can joined the Army and was in ar­tillery school in El Paso, Texas, wait­ing for or­ders to re­port to South Korea.

Hat­field got a call from Ge­orge Terry, an as­sis­tant foot­ball coach at West Point un­der leg­endary coach Paul Di­et­zel, who of­fered Hat­field the chance to coach dur­ing his mil­i­tary obli­ga­tion. Hat­field ac­cepted the change in or­ders and headed to West Point.

He would go on to be an as­sis­tant coach at Ten­nessee for Doug Dickey, who he fol­lowed to Florida.

In 1978, he be­came the of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor for Bill Par­cells at the Air Force Academy. Par­cells left af­ter one sea­son to go to the NFL, and Hat­field was named head coach.

Air Force im­proved ev­ery year un­der Hat­field, and in 1983 the pro­gram fin­ished 102. That’s when Hat­field got the call to come home and coach his Hogs.

Hat­field was wildly suc­cess­ful at Arkansas, go­ing 5517-1 and win­ning two South­west Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onships. His .760 over­all win­ning per­cent­age and .783 in South­west Con­fer­ence games are the best in school his­tory.

Start­ing in 1986, ath­letic director Frank Broyles was no longer a col­lege foot­ball an­a­lyst for ABC ev­ery Satur­day and he be­gan to scru­ti­nize Hat­field’s staff. Hat­field en­dured it for four years be­fore tak­ing the head coach­ing job at Clem­son. where he ran into an­other sit­u­a­tion he had at Arkansas.

Hat­field is a spir­i­tual man of depth and con­vic­tions. He doesn’t drink and while he doesn’t con­demn those who do, there were some — es­pe­cially at Clem­son — who thought that hav­ing an adult bev­er­age with boost­ers was part of the job.

Af­ter four sea­sons and a 32-13-1 record, the wel­come mat was pulled from be­neath his feet and he headed to Rice. He coached there 12 years be­fore re­tir­ing.

So what the se­lec­tion com­mit­tee gets is a col­lege foot­ball and Arkansas Hall of Famer with great foot­ball knowl­edge and un­fal­ter­ing char­ac­ter and con­science. It was a win-win for col­lege foot­ball.


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