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Q&A: Ken Hatfield, Part 2

Ken Hatfield. Photo from

It's time for Part 2 of our Q&A with former Razorback player and coach Ken Hatfield (here's Part 1). Hatfield coached the Hogs for six seasons (1984-1989) and compiled a 55-17-1 record, good enough for the highest winning percentage of any head coach in Razorback history. In today's installment, he discusses his relationships with his former players, the most exciting victories and the most depressing loss of his time in Fayetteville, and his two Cotton Bowl teams. (And once again, thanks to Jacob at for the photos.)

Expats: Do you still keep in touch with many of your former players?

Hatfield: A good number of them. Of course, Quinn Grovey is up here doing the color on the radio broadcasts. I've seen Steve Atwater a couple of times when he's come back. Wayne Martin.

I've seen several others - Mike Shepherd, Steve Hudson. I talked to Shannon Spangler today down in Little Rock. Matt Pitner, who was a center for us, I used to play golf with him down in Houston. I've seen Kerry Crawford, a noseguard for us. Dexter Howard is a preacher here in town.

So I get to see them every now and then. I'm not in close contact with them, but they know that I'd be glad to help them. Any time we need each other, I think we could call on each other.

Expats: Reflecting on your coaching tenure at Arkansas, what would you say was your most exciting victory as Hogs coach? On the flip side, what was the most demoralizing loss?

Hatfield: Well, there's two exciting victories. The first one was against Texas A&M in 1988. A&M had won the conference the year before. They were on probation that year. Their whole big mantra before playing us was, since though they can't compete for the Cotton Bowl, the Southwest Conference is going to send the second-best team.

To beat them up here, 25-20, was a really big, monumental game. They were tremendous. They were a great team. To beat them here before our fans and then to know that we were undefeated in Southwest Conference play that year and not them, I think that was probably as gratifying as anything.

Probably the most exciting game we had, though, was Houston in 1989. They had Andre Ware, that year's Heisman Trophy winner. We had a big shootout, 45-39, down in Little Rock. It was just one of those exciting games from the first play to the last play. You didn't dare go get a hot dog because you'd miss three scores. I don't think they did a lot of business at the concession stands that night, but that's alright.

I think those two were the most exciting.

The most devastating was the loss to Texas in 1987 on the last play of the game. The quarterback threw the ball behind the receiver, and the receiver makes a tremendous catch. He actually pinned the ball to his hip and catches it and falls in the end zone. They win 16-14. They don't even kick the extra point.

That was probably the most devastating loss.

1989 Cotton Bowl Program. Photo from

Expats: Your last two Razorback teams were Southwest Conference champions and Cotton Bowl teams. Which of those two was the stronger team?

Hatfield: The '88 team was so good because we had eight starters on defense that had all started for three years. So they were experienced. They stayed healthy. They just played dominating, smothering defense. But we lost every one of them, pretty much, in '89, and we had to start all over on defense.

The '89 team had a great, great offense with Barry Foster, James Rouse, Quinn Grovey, Billy Winston, Derek Russell, Jim Mabry, Freddie Childress. You name it. Just a tremendous offensive team.

The defensive team had no dominant players, but they played well. They played within themselves, and they made just enough plays to win the championship.

Expats: How do you think those teams compare to other great teams in Razorback history?

Hatfield: The '88 team, they had Richard Brothers, a guy that almost won the state decathlon three years in a row; Steve Atwater, who became an All-Pro player; Wayne Martin, a No. 1 draft pick, another all-Pro player; Barry Foster, one of the greatest running backs in the NFL when he played; James Rouse, who made Parade All-American three years in a row; Quinn Grovey, who ran and passed for over 6,000 yards; Freddie Childress, an All-American lineman, 365 pounds, who'd just knock anybody off the ball; Jim Mabry, a great offensive tackle who also made first-team All-American. A great blend.

And then people forget, we had Kendall Trainor, who in '88 kicked 24 field goals in a row. 24 in a row! You think that isn't big? That's big.
1990 Cotton Bowl Program. Photo from
We had a complete team that at their very best could compete with any Razorback team we've had.

The only thing that disappointed me in '88: We were 10-0, and we lose to Miami by two points, or we would have been 11-0 going into the Cotton Bowl. And because of a couple of situations, we had to leave our two best players - Freddie Childress and Wayne Martin - at home for the Cotton Bowl. Either one of them would have been a dominant factor against UCLA.

I felt that we didn't have our best team in the Cotton Bowl, which was disappointing more than anything else.

Expats: Speaking of the '88 Miami loss: You may not have felt this way, but to us that was a really inspiring game considering how we'd lost to them the year before in War Memorial. To come so close, playing them down to the wire on the road when so many weren't giving us a chance, that was really inspiring.

Hatfield: In '87, Jimmy had a tremendous team. They had 27 players in their junior and senior class that ended up playing in the NFL. Twenty-seven! I think we had six. That's just how good they were.

Fred Goldsmith was our defensive coordinator, and in '87 he was so worried about all of their great quarterbacks and receivers. He was worried about stopping the pass, and we didn't stop the run. If you can't stop the run, you're dead.

The next year, I told him, "I don't care if they throw for 500 yards in Miami - do not let them run the football a lick." And they did not run the ball on us. We created a good defensive scheme. They were going to have to throw it every down to beat us.

We certainly had a chance to win it. We were ahead, but we dropped a potential game-winning interception in the end zone. Just dropped it, and then they come back the next play and kick the game-winning field goal.

We played ‘em head to head. Quinn was hurt. John Bland, our back-up, had to play a good bit in the game, and he did a good job. Barry Foster goes 80 yards for a touchdown. Kendall Trainor kicks a 55-yard field goal right before the half.

We didn't back up from Miami. Our kids went out there and played their hearts out. Even though their team had tremendous, tremendous NFL-type players — we didn't have nearly as many — we just flat got in a fight with them all the way and showed the character that that team had in '88.