Former Razorback Hatfield a wise voice for any football decision

Posted: January 31, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Ken Hatfield, former player and Arkansas football caoch, speaks Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, during a celebration in Bud Walton Arena on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville for the life of Frank Broyles, the former coach and athletics director.

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 47-yard 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 10-2. That's when Hatfield got the call to come home and coach his Hogs.

Hatfield was wildly successful at Arkansas, going 55-17-1 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.

Sports on 01/31/2018