THIS HATFIELD IS THE REAL McCOY : Arkansas Coach Shoots Straight From the Hip

Times Staff Writer

The accent is pure hominy grits, but the approach is ramrod straight, stiff medicine for the college athlete of the 1980s.

Self-sufficiency, teamwork and, please, remember it's just a game. These are the cornerstones of Arkansas Coach Ken Hatfield.

It happened that he was in town when a plan to form a union of college football players was announced by Johnny Rodgers, the former Heisman Trophy winner, Charger running back and magazine publisher. The idea struck Hatfield as ludicrous, but in denouncing it, he found a convenient vehicle to air his philosophy.

"That's the dumbest thing I ever heard of," the Arkansas coach said following a visit to the zoo Friday afternoon. "The idea of a union for college athletes is something we have to unite against and fight.

"I just don't believe in having pros playing college sports, which is what a union would create. Heck, college football is a game, not the end of the world. We're not preparing for war. It's not life and death. We've got to keep college athletics a place for college students."

Although a case could be made that professionalism has already invaded and subverted college sports, Hatfield prefers to believe that the pendulum is swinging toward purification. He agrees with the suggestion by former basketball coach Al McGuire that college coaches eventually will get tenure, which should help ease some of the pressures that lead to corruption.

"We're moving in the direction of tenure," Hatfield said, "but the problem is that society is so oriented toward the quick fix. It starts at the pro level and filters down to college sports.

"I think more and more college presidents are determined to draw the line and fight the win-at-all-costs tendency. The battle lines have been drawn, and, in the end, the coaches that teach values like integrity and perseverance will be the ones who get tenure."

When he mounts the soapbox, it's hard to stop Hatfield, whose evangelistic zeal is matched by his coaching acumen. The football program he crafted at Air Force and the one he strengthened at Arkansas speak eloquently of his ability as a recruiter, strategist and motivator.

He made his mark in Colorado Springs by recruiting tall, willowy high school athletes in whom he saw untapped physical potential, as well as above-average mental ability. "We were trying to get to know more about a young man than his height, weight and speed," Hatfield said. "We recruited young men who were goal-oriented and had plenty of stick-to-itiveness.

"We're doing the same thing at Arkansas, except that now we're able to look for a slightly better athlete. Now we can go after a youngster who can think about becoming a pro football player, something we couldn't do before."

Hatfield, who played at Arkansas 20 years ago under Coach Frank Broyles, replaced Lou Holtz two years ago when Holtz moved to Minnesota. Hatfield was drawn by the hold Arkansas football has on residents of the state.

"We have people's interest 365 days a year," he said. "There's no competition from pro football or basketball. I have a radio show eight months of the year and a prime-time, hour-long TV show. It's a really special atmosphere."

This keen interest in Razorback football isn't reflected in tickets sold for the Holiday Bowl, or so it would appear. Only about 1,800 tickets were sold to Arkansas rooters.

"The problem we had was transportation," Hatfield said. "John Reid (the Holiday Bowl director) knew about it in advance. We could get people to San Diego, but we had a problem getting airplane reservations back home in time for Christmas. Our people really had to hustle. They had to make a hard choice."

Hatfield said he has no problem with the proliferation of bowl games, as long as teams with losing records aren't selected as participants.

"A bowl is a nice reward for a good season," he said. "As long as they make money and serve a cause in the community, bowls are worthwhile. There are a lot of games on TV, that's true, but a lot of them are exciting. I don't think we have too many bowls at present."

The current Arkansas team, which brings a 9-2 record to San Diego, is reflective of Hatfield in being one of the smaller teams in the nation, relying on defense and avoidance of turnovers.

"We're still somewhat in transition," he said. "I stress that the team belongs to the players, not the coaches. I was on a team that won a national championship 20 years ago, but that doesn't mean a hill of beans to these guys. What we as coaches can get across is that the team comes first. Whatever we do is in the best interest of the team."

Corny? Sure, but it works for Hatfield.

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