Ken Hatfield was the former University of Arkansas head football coach who was tapped to take over the Clemson football program after popular Tiger Coach Danny Ford lost a power struggle with new Clemson University President Max Lennon in 1989. He would lead the Tigers to a 32-13-1 record over a four year period, 1990-1993, but would never overcome an innate hostility to his presence as Ford's unwelcome replacement.
A native of Helena, Arkansas, Hatfield played football for three years at the University of Arkansas, 1962-1964, and was a starter on the National Championship team of 1964. He gained national fame as a defensive back who was the nation's top punt returner in 1963 and 1964. He still ranks as the only college football player ever to finish in the top two in the nation in punt returns three straight seasons, as he finished second nationally in 1962.
After graduating as an accounting major from Arkansas in 1965 he instead pursued coaching, first at the high school level and then as an assistant coach at Army, Tennessee, Florida and Air Force. In thirteen seasons as an assistant, he helped teams to seven bowl games and was part of a SEC championship at Tennessee in 1969.
In 1978, he was named offensive coordinator at Air Force on Bill Parcells' coaching staff. A year later, Parcells was lured by a National Football League job and Hatfield had his first head coaching position.
Hatfield guided the Air Force Falcons into two consecutive bowls in 1982 and 1983 and was named National Coach of the Year in 1983 with his team ranked fifteenth. He was then hired by the University of Arkansas and led the Razorbacks to six post-season appearances in as many years. The Hogs were back-to-back conference champions in 1988 and 1989. He was named the Southwest Conference Coach-of-the-Decade by the Houston Post.
Hatfield comes to Clemson
When Clemson head coach Danny Ford's tenure with the Tigers came to a premature end in 1989, Hatfield was hired by Clemson President Max Lennon to take over as the Tigers' twenty-second coach. A shotgun wedding is never a happy one, and even though Hatfield would rack up a winning record, including the ACC Championship in 1991, he would never wholey win the hearts of Tiger fandom as he was seen as Danny's unwanted substitute.
Hatfield took the Tigers to three bowls, won the conference championship, and with a victory over Illinois in the 1991 Hall of Fame Bowl, he became the first Clemson coach to win ten games in his first year and his .833 winning percentage was the best for a first-year coach since 1900 when John Heisman went 6-0. The season included included six wins over teams with winning records, more than any other team that year with the exception of National Champion Georgia Tech.
Hatfield was also just the eighth coach in the previous thirteen years to take a team to a Top 10 Associated Press final ranking in his first year with the program, as the Tigers finished the season ranked ninth in the AP poll. The Clemson gridders would also rank in the Top 25 in 1991 and 1993. Clemson was the third school that Hatfield had coached to a Top 20 ranking (Air Force at fifteenth in 1983, Arkansas with four Top 20 rankings). Only five other coaches have achieved that in NCAA history.
Nevertheless, the underlying friction between Ford-loyalists and their current coach took its toll and a few days after the Tigers had beaten the Gamecocks in Columbia on November 20, 1993 to conclude an 8-3 regular season, Hatfield announced that he would be leaving Clemson. Former Assistant Coach Tommy West was hired back as new head coach to guide the Tigers in their December 31 meeting with the Kentucky Wildcats in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
From Tiger to Raptor
Hatfield was hired by Rice University in December 1993 as their sixteenth head coach. In his first season leading the Owls, he became only the second Southwest Conference coach to win a league championship at two different schools. Rice's share of the 1994 SWC title was its first since 1957. Over the next several years the Owls would see football success that set school records annually. But by the early 2000s, Hatfield's season records began to slip. A 4-7 record in 2002 was followed by a 5-3 season in 2003, 3-8 in 2004, and a ghastly 1-10 outcome in 2005.
On November 29, 2005, Hatfield defiantly told the press at a conference that he didn't anticipate any staff changes despite the mediocre season. The next day, however, he reversed himself at another briefing and announced that he was resigning from the head coaching job. When asked what had changed his mind, he said, simply, "Nothing."
Athletics Director Bobby May said that Hatfield made the decision to leave on his own. Hatfield finished the 2005 season with a 167-130-4 record, fifth among active 1-A coaches.
His better half
Hatfield is married to the former Sandy Wright of Kennett, Missouri, a champion cowgirl who competes as a barrel-racer on the professional rodeo circuit.
|Preceded by: Danny Ford||Clemson University Football Coach||Succeeded by: Tommy West|