It took some walking Saturday morning before Ken Hatfield truly found something that looked familiar around the University of Arkansas athletic facilities.
"This practice field, this one practice field, that's about the only thing that looks the same as it did when I came here as a player," said Hatfield, captain of the 1964 national championship team and the winningest head coach in UA history with a .760 percentage.
Hatfield was pointing to the eastern most of the two practice fields south of Reynolds Razorback Stadium, the one still covered with grass.
"These are first-class facilities, as fine as any you'll find," he said. "This is the best place you will find and it gives Arkansas a chance to be at a high level. For a young man to come here, he knows he's got a great opportunity to succeed with these facilities."
Hatfield pointed to Barnhill Arena where the old football locker rooms once stood.
"That hill on the side of the practice field was there then, you'd walk up it to the locker room and (equipment manager) Henry Huelhorst would give you a six-ounce coke," he said. "One. That was it. Some of the older players like Billy Moore would sneak back in line and try to get two or three, but he'd catch them."
Hatfield, released in December as Rice coach, was all smiles as he shook hand after hand Saturday. He was in town to attend a fraternity event, but spent three hours with the football Hogs. Head coach Houston Nutt asked if Hatfield would address the team afterwards, and he seemed to enjoy that, too.
Hatfield said it's the only time he's been around UA football other than the Centennial Celebration of 1994 since ‘89.
"I'll be back for the lettermen's reunion in two weeks and I'll see the spring game," Hatfield said. "Tell me about those quarterbacks. Is Mitch Mustain out here yet? Did he finish at mid-term and is he out here?"
Of course, Mustain won't be around until August. There were more football questions from the man who put up a 55-17-1 record from 1984-89 as Arkansas coach. Finally, I began to ask the questions.
What were the emotions as he walked through the Broyles Center and through the expanded stadium?
"Great, just great," he said. "So many memories. So much excitement here.
"Like the first time to go through the A in Little Rock as a coach in ‘84. Very few get a chance to come back to coach your alma mater. Just think about it. Darrell Royal didn't even get that, to come back to Oklahoma.
"I wanted so much for my granddaddy to see me coach that first game, but we buried him the day before. He watched, but from Heaven.
"Another great memory was the Cotton Bowl against UCLA. I know we lost, but to come down that ramp and see the entire stadium in red -- since UCLA didn't take hardly any tickets -- that was a great memory. There must have been 66,000 in red and that's more than we'd ever had in a place at one time call the Hogs. It was awesome. We hadn't been to the Cotton Bowl in 13 years and that was so exciting.
"We stayed at the Anatole and they had a pep rally there. The lobby was completely full and we couldn't get to the pep rally. The police took us down a back elevator and up to the second floor so we could see out to the pep rally."
Of course, UCLA won, 17-3. Most forget the Hogs played without their best two players, linemen Wayne Martin and Freddie Childress.
Then the talk switched to present tense as Hatfield watched Nutt put the Hogs through their paces Saturday. It was clear Hatfield was aware that Nutt had Gus Malzahn as offensive coordinator and would no longer call plays. Hatfield called his own plays at Arkansas for all but one season.
"I can tell you from experience this will be hard for Houston," Hatfield said. "You don't want to give it up. You always think you can do it better. Whoever calls the plays will make a mistake from time to time. It's just going to happen and then you think you could do better. He'll go through that."
Hatfield recalled when Bill Parcells turned over the playcalling to him at Air Force.
"Bill was very good," Hatfield said. "He gave it to me and never said one word. Whatever I did in practice, how ever I did it was fine. If I decided I wanted to completely change the offense midweek, he'd have let me do it. That's how you have to do it.
"I will say that it is not about playcalling. It is about players. You saw the national championship game. Vince Young took off on his own for that winning touchdown. He got pressured and took off. I bet they did not practice that play. It was a great player."
Is Hatfield done coaching?
"Rice thinks I am," he smiled. "They sent me a plaque last week. It says congratulations on retirement. Well, I don't know if I'm retired from coaching, but I am retired from Rice."
Some things he does not miss.
"Recruiting, that's what you think about every time you wakeup," he said. "That's the single most important thing, finding players. The game has not changed. It's about players."
Ken Hatfield (right) visits with veteran UA trainer Dean Weber.
Photo by Clay Henry
State of the Hogs: Ken Hatfield
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