Clemson fans patient with nice guy Hatfield But that could change if Tigers lose to Terps

September 13, 1990|By Don Markus

There are some major questions being asked these days in Clemson, S.C., some that haven't been broached in a long, long time by those who follow the town's beloved football team.

In short: What in tarnation is wrong with the Tigers?

And one more thing: What about this Hatfield fella? Nice guy, but can he coach?

The honeymoon officially ended for Ken Hatfield on Saturday night inCharlottesville, Va., when then-No. 9 Clemson lost to Virginia, 20-7, for the first time in school history.

"When you have a loss in anything, you have to do a lot of soul-searching," said Hatfield, 47, who replaced Danny Ford last winter. "It's not all peaches and cream. When I was at Air Force, my wife once said, 'In victory you glow; in defeat you grow.'"

Clemson (1-1), which fell to 16th this week, has a lot of growing to do when it plays Maryland (2-0) Saturday at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. Though the "Bring back Danny" chants haven't surfaced, a loss to the Terrapins might do it.

So far, the rarely satiated fans have displayed patience and understandingfor their new coach. And Hatfield can empathize with what the fans are going through.

"They're part of the team," Hatfield said this week. "When they hurt, we hurt. When they're happy, we're happy."

Hatfield, too, is not abandoning hope, just as he didn't in his first year at Arkansas. With Hatfield under similar pressure after replacing Lou Holtz, the Razorbacks lost their opener to Texas Christian University and, two games later, lost to Texas.

"I told our guys after the Texas game that we were going to be playing for the conference championship," Hatfield said. "Going into the last week of the season, we needed three things to happen to play SMU for the title. All those things took place."

The final piece of the puzzle was missing: Arkansas lost a close game to Southern Methodist. But it was the start of a successful six-season run for Hatfield, whose teams went 55-17-1, won Southwest Conference championships his last two years and went to six straight bowls.

So when Ford resigned under the pressure of a National Collegiate Athletic Association investigation, Hatfield was brought to Clemson. It was not by popular demand.

In fact, angry Ford supporters held several candlelight vigils in front of thehome of Clemson president Max Lennon. A large number of players threatened to boycott the 1990 season unless Ford was returned to the job or a member of his staff was hired.

"It was a mess, until the people got to meet Ken Hatfield," one longtime Clemson supporter said last week. "Even the people who backed Danny knew deep down that this guy was better for the image of the program."

It didn't take long for Hatfield to win mostly everyone onto his side. After one meeting with boosters, a Ford fan approached the new coach.

"She said, 'I wish you wouldn't be so nice. I'm trying not to like you,'" Hatfield said. "I told her that I could only be the way I am."

The players liked the way Hatfield gave them positive reinforcement when they made a mistake on the practice field and didn't keep them out there for hours on end, something Ford was notorious for doing.

And the administration liked Hatfield's priorities on education and athletics. Ford had questioned the value of building a library when the football team was more in need of an athletic dormitory.

"Everything about Ken Hatfield is impressive," Clemson athletic director Bobby Robinson said yesterday. "He's an excellent coach, a good recruiter. He has a good overall philosophy about intercollegiate athletics. He has the ability to relate to people. He's such a quality individual."

Robinson said the reaction to the Virginia loss was to be expected -- disappointment, "but everyone realizes that Virginia is a good team, a top-20 team [the Cavaliers, ranked 14th at the time, are now No. 11]."

The calls to the football office earlier this week were mostly supportive, a secretary there said. But the defeat to Virginia gave a chance for the old guard who backed Ford to take shots at Hatfield.

Several registered their complaints to local call-in shows and to newspapers throughout the state.One called the Anderson (S.C.) Independent with these words, "Danny, phone home."

(Ford is out of coaching after settling for what could amount to a $1.2 million package if he stays off the sidelines through next season. Because the NCAA didn't find him guilty of any infractions, Ford already has been rumored for jobs at Louisiana State and Mississippi State.)

Asked what his team must do to get ready for Maryland, Hatfield said: "You go back to fundamentals. You try to fix the little things. You try to improve on things you didn't do well. Any one or two of these fundamentals could be the difference in the ballgame."

Such as catching the ball, for instance. Several of DeChane Cameron's passes were dropped, including two in the end zone with a little less than four minutes to go in the game.

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