Former Hog coach speaks at Jonesboro church

Thursday, July 3, 2003

1964 was a magical year for the Arkansas Razorback football team and its fans. The Hogs claimed the schools' first and so far only National Championship, going 11-0 and beating Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl 10-7.

But it was a cool Saturday night some three months earlier in Austin, Texas, that made it all possible.

Arkansas All-American defensive back and the nation's leading punt returner, Ken Hatfield, fielded the Longhorns' Ernie Koys kick at his own twenty-one yard line and raced yards for a touchdown, igniting the Hogs to a 14-13 upset over Number one ranked Texas in what proved to be the pivotal game of the year.

But, it was January 2, 1965 that remains etched in his memory. Hatfield reminisced of that fateful day as he spoke to several hundred people at the Community Fellowship Church Saturday night in Jonesboro.

He currently is the head football coach of Rice University, who also spent six years at Arkansas, recalled that specific date as the best and worst moments of his life.

"We had just won the National Championship and I felt I was at the pinnacle of life, but I also realized my playing days had come to an end," said Hatfield.

Hatfield then said he was invited to speak at a relatively new organization called the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

I thought this would give me a chance to be in the limelight a little longer, but as a result, it changed my life forever. I made a pact with God to do things his way for three months, but after two days I completely turned my life over to Him for what now has been 38 years," added Hatfield.

Hatfield praised his wife, Sandy, for always being there for him.

He said the first thing he tells his players is to thank God for giving them the talent to play football on the college level.

Hatfield started his head coaching career at the Air Force Academy when current Dallas Cowboys' Coach Bill Parcells stepped down. He was named the 1983 National Coach of the year and is the only active coach to lead three different schools to 10 win seasons at Air Force, Arkansas, and Clemson.

In 24 years of coaching, Hatfield owns an overall record of 159-115-4 and is fifth among active coaches in career victories. He is the Razorbacks' all time leader in winning percentage with a 55-17-1 mark. He led Rice to their best record in 49 years in 2001 going 8-4 and led the Owls to their first win over Texas since 1965. Hatfield will be entering his 10th season at Rice this year. Hatfield said playing at Arkansas at a great time and coaching there as well makes him a very lucky man.

Two other things stick out in Hatfield's time as the Hogs head coach, one good and one bad.

"In 1987 we had just lost to Texas, 16-14 on the last play of the game and an irate fan spit on me and was cussing me as I left the field. All I could think of is why do you think you hurt more than me and my players," recalled Hatfield.

One of the best times was the 1989 Cotton Bowl against Troy Aikman and UCLA.

"We held a pep rally at the hotel in their ballroom and it held about 4,000. There was another 6,000 in the lobby that couldn't get in. Then coming down the tunnel the day of the game we saw 50,000 Hog Fans waiting for us. It was so classy and such an electric moment."

Through all of the good and bad times, Hatfield has always relied on his faith in God to help him through. His great faith and love of the Lord has made him the great man and coach he is. It is a bargain he started in 1965 that lives on today and is what makes Ken and Sandy Hatfield such happy and wonderful people.

The rest is just icing on the cake.

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