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DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN.    Chase Clement, Brian Raines answer questions from the media in Friday press conference, insisting that the Rice players are more resolute than ever.  'We're not worried about anything.  It is what it is,' Chase said.  'Whoever comes in, they're going to be part of a winner' (PTH photo)
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Del Conte, players set upbeat tone for this
year's coach search

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Defensive leader Brian Raines:  'We talked about who might leave, but he was like, he was staying'

HOUSTON (Jan. 12) -- Announcing "it's a great day to be a Rice Owl," Rice University Athletic Director Chris Del Conte pulled out all the stops in delivering an a upbeat message to gathered media and some hundred agitated fans present at the R-Room here Friday morning.

The Rice AD expressed understanding and acceptance of what appeared to have been overwhelming financial considerations which prompted the former Rice mentor to sing, "Take Me Back to Tulsa; I'm Too Young to Marry."

The outgoing coach gave Rice sports administration a shot at matching the rumored eight-year, $1.1 million-per-year offer visited upon him by Tulsa fat cats. But CDC said the invitation to counter-offer was politely declined, given the difference in compensation levels -- even after the pay raise that was included in the contract renegotiation offer the former Rice coach told press he had accepted two days ago.

"We're not going to play that kind of game,' the Rice AD said. "We're going to pay what is right and appropriate. We're never going to get in a bidding war, to say 'here we are, hear us roar.'

"That's because we have a school where student-athletes come first. They come to get a degree. We're going to win in the classroom as well as win on the playing field. And that is what Rice is about."

Multiple informed sources uniformly have reported that Graham, indeed, had signed on the dotted line of the contract extension proffered to him Tuesday -- one which purportedly carried a lighter buyout clause than his original deal.

Rice sophomore quarterback Chase Clement, for one, confirmed that the players were informed that Graham had inked the deal on Tuesday.

"I was pretty upset that a few days ago, he signed a contract extension and told us he was committed to us, and that he wasn't going to leave until 2012," Chase told us, speaking of the 6:00 a.m., five-minute-long team meeting Graham had called earlier on the day of the press conference.

"And then all of a sudden, two days later, he's gone," Chase went on. "That's something that you don't like -- being treated unfairly and be lied to like that, especially from a guy that went through those trials with you all season long."

But don't take Chase's word for it -- he's only Graham's starting, and star, quarterback. Yet his information is flatly contradicted by numerous lotus eaters up Tulsa way.  By their reckoning, Todd kinda sorta only indicated he maybe was pleased at the commitment shown by Rice sports administrators via  the proffer of the contract extension.

'I was upset yesterday -- I'm not upset today'

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University president Leebron:  'We're going to do this the right way, and we're going to do this the Rice way'

In any event, the mood must change immediately and those same Rice sports administrators must swing into action, AD Del Conte said.

"I am upset.  Well, I was upset yesterday -- I'm not upset today.   I'm excited," Chris said.  "This time a year ago we were one-and-ten.

AD Del Conte told the press that the Graham's successor as the Owls head football coach is off and running.

"Today (Friday) my phone is burning off the hook with guys who were not applying for this job a year ago," he said. " They want to come to Rice now because Todd proved that you can win here."

Chris indicated that he would work with Rice President David Leebron to immediately assemble a committee to begin the processing the list for candidates to fill the football coaching vacancy.

"I can tell you that we are going to move very quickly. The iron is hot," Del Conte stated. "It's wide open and all candidates will be considered. We are coming off a bowl game, seven wins, and have the nucleus of a great football team coming back and a great recruiting class in place. We're going to get someone in here in short order who is going to take this baton and run with it run fast than we were running before, and build upon the foundation that has been laid."

"I want to stress to everyone, it's not about a man, it's about a program," he added. "You win with players. And we didn't lose any of them."

'This is how I live my life, every single day'

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AD Del Conte: 'I am upset.  Well, I was upset yesterday -- I'm not upset today.  I'm excited'

University president David Leebron was present at the press conference. He did not take the podium, but stayed around afterwards to answer reporters' questions.

"We're going to do this the right way, and we're going to do this the Rice way," he summed up. "We think we're going to bring in a great new coach. And I think you heard from the players the spirit of the team that's going to be sustained here. And we have no doubt that we're going to find a great leader for that team."

The somewhat recent appointee for job of head man at Rice, gave every indication he's come to terms with the personnel matters, sometimes urgent, that a university president at a school so prestigious at Rice must face, both over on the athletic fields and in the labs as well.

"This is how I live my life, every single day," he deadpanned. "The challenge of running a university is, every night your assets go home to bed. And what you really want is for all of them to show up again the next day."

Even if David didn't originate that remark, but first heard it from some colleague, one neverthe less must admit: it's a helluva line. He explained a bit.

"Whether it's our top coaches, or our Nobel Prize winners, or our professors who are doing things that perhaps one day are going to cure cancer, every day you have to worry about how I'm going to get them back here the next day. And that's my job across the university."

President Leebron said that, unlike many individuals close to the Rice football program, he did not feel particularly betrayed by Graham, even after having bought in and acceeding to the bulk of the charismatic ex-coach's demands.

"No, I think betrayed is not the right word," he said. "Everybody's got to make their own decisions; they have their families to worry about. Universities enter into written agreements, but people get an offer elsewhere that's better sometimes, and they go. And we all wish Todd had stayed around a little longer, but as he put it, he made the decision that was best for his family. And we're going to make the decisions that are best for the Rice family."

'Once again, we bought into it'

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Rice AD Chris DelConte assures press members Friday that things continue to look up for Rice athletics (PTH photo)

There's at least one Owl player who doesn't share the university president's convictions, however. All-league linebacker and MVP defender Brian Raines, who's still got two more years to play for the Owls, said he and many other, if not most, of his teammates did feel extremely let down, if not totally betrayed.

"January 7 we sit down and we talk to Coach Graham, and he tells us about all the goals we're going to achieve this year, and it's convincing one another, and he's going to convince us that he's going be here every day; there's no way he's leaving," Brian said Friday. "We talked about who might leave, but he was like, he was staying."

"Once again, we bought into it. We starting believing, ok, conference championship; even though we fell short of it this year, we know how hard we'd worked, and we're willing to work even harder this time around, to get that done."

"And now for him to leave like that, it really falls heavy on your heart."

But they calmed down quickly and focused their attention on what's to come, Brian added. The 'buy-in' for Graham's successor is not going to come easily for some of his teammates, he said.

"I think for a lot of the players it's going to be difficult, because Coach Graham came in and put a lot on this team's plate, to get us ready for this season," Brian explained. "But we changed before; now we can stay that way."

'I'd tell them to come on'

The sophomore from Lovett added he wished he could send a message to the current Rice recruiting class:  Come on down, the Men of the Institute are waiting with open arms.

"If I had a chance to talk to Rice's recruits, I'd tell them to come on and join Rice football -- because we're going to hit the ground running," he told us. " This program just keeps on going; one man isn't the whole thing, by far. We have every intention to go to a bigger bowl game next year. I feel we have a good chance to win the conference. Nothing has stopped."

"We've already talked among ourselves about this. Everybody's going to be out there, out here right behind us on this field, doing 7-on-7s, working out on our own through our basic drills, footwork, keys you know, communication with Chase, things that we've been doing all along, so we keep sharp and don't sit down and do nothing."

"So I hope every one of those guys decides to come on. Nothing's going to change, really."

Lagniappe:  Major deems self not ready for head coaching job

Rice sophomore quarterback Chase Clement said he'd been on the phone with the Owls' '06 offensive coordinator Major Applewhite as recently as Friday morning. And Major told Chase he's on his way to Alabama, period, he insisted.

But would a head coaching job offer sway him?

"I'm just telling the truth," Chase responded. "I don't think -- you know, just talking with Major and what I know of him, I don't think that's what he wants right now. There's so much that he still wants to learn. He's excited about being able to get on with Saban.

--Paul T. Hlavinka
  Webletter Editor & Publisher

 

Rice AD Chris DelConte's opening remarks at Friday's press conference.... (3:02)wavsymbol.jpg (416 bytes) Media Q&A session with CDC at Friday press conference... (12:53)wavsymbol.jpg (416 bytes)      Chase Clement, Brian Raines speak to the media Friday.... (6:33)wavsymbol.jpg (416 bytes)      KHOU video:  Former coach on his Rice contract extension....wavsymbol.jpg (416 bytes)

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THE STREAK'S ALIVE.   Rice All-American WR Jarett Dillard was double-teamed and triple- teamed by Troy State, but nevertheless kept his consecutive-game TD reception streak alive (PTH photo)


Interview:   Chase Clement
'We'll see him next year out here on this field'

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'To tell you the truth, I really don't think the new coach will have to bring anything unique to the table. He doesn't have to bring anything that makes us stand up and say, 'whoa, look at this guy''

 

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'Because everybody kind of knew what was going on, it wasn't all that unexpected. It kind of got out last (Thursday) night, and I think that was when there were a lot of upset people'

 

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'We've got five to seven, eight games before (Tulsa). So we're not going to just want Tulsa to be a big game and a mark of success for us. We've got several other games to win first'

 

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'I'd rather it be that people are coming in here and looking to take our coaches rather than everybody being just set for ten years or more. When you win at this level, guys are going to come in from other places and try and raid your coaches'

 

HOUSTON (Jan. 12) -- Rice's sophomore quarterback Chase Clement, who was generally recognized as the chief engineer of Rice's offensive attack this past season, was present at the press conference called by Athletic Director Chris Del Conte Friday morning, and, having been asked to stick around afterwards and answer reporters' questions, turned candid in a hurry. Here's the substance of his press interview.

Q: How bad a setback to the team is Coach Graham's sudden departure?

No -- it isn't one. There are a bunch of guys on this team that are really looking forward to next year, and the chance to win a conference championship. Our goals haven't changed. We're going to work to accomplish that.

Q: In this day and time, is it just that athletes have to get used to this kind of uncertainty with their coaches?

Well, of course if you get recruited by a guy and you don't necessarily know whether that guy is going to be there when you're a senior, that's just part of the landscape of college football nowadays.  We have to live with it.

Q: What exactly did coach say to you players this morning?

He told us, really, why he made his decision -- that he told us that financially it was going to help his family; that he was going to be able to send his kids to college; I mean, he kind of has to think of his family; that's something that's really important to him. He told us that we've got to continue doing more things at Rice that assure that this football program continues to be successful.

Q: What was it like, when Graham was in there breaking it to the team?

Because everybody kind of knew what was going on, it wasn't all that unexpected. It kind of got out last (Thursday) night, and I think that was when there were a lot of upset people. But I think everyone has kind of calmed down this morning and realized that that was just the decision that was made, and to respect that, and wish him the best of luck -- and we'll see him next year out here on this field.

Q: Is there an inherent contradiction in the fact that coaches always talk about loyalty and sticking together, and then when the first opportunity to bolt comes because they have a better offer, nobody appears to resent that part of it? If you want to go to Tulsa, you've got to sit out a year. But if the coach leaves, there's no such consequences.

Exactly. That's kind of a tough thing, but that's just part of college football. A coach will insist that he's committed to you, and then sure enough he goes right across the street to another conference rival, and now he's coaching on the other sideline. That's just the way it is, and if you're going to play college football, you have to accept it for what it is.

But, you know, already I can't wait for that Tulsa game next year.

Q: But on the other side of it, Graham did some things that you haven't done in a long, long time...

I mean, he did. He did a great job. He came in here and motivated us. He told us that we were going to win. He made us believe. He brought in a good coaching staff. He got a good strength and conditioning coach. And really, he raised the foundation; I'm not going to take any credit away from him on that score; that's something that he accomplished.

But it comes back to the players. They do the football playing here. The guys that I  went out on the football field the other day with, those are the people who actually went out and did it. We've got a good group coming back; you know, it's just going to happen again. That's the way it is. Now, we believe.

Q: Now that you're looking for the next guy, what kind of guy is it going to take?

Well, to begin with, he's got to believe, too.  We've got to have a guy that believes in us; and who believes that you can win at a place like this. I really think that when the new coach comes in, he's going to realize that we already have in place the players to win this league.

Q: Do you think any particular special or unique qualities are necessary?

To tell you the truth, I really don't think the new coach will have to bring anything unique to the table. He doesn't have to bring anything that makes us stand up and say, 'whoa, look at this guy.' We know now what it takes to win; we know what it takes to go through the season and persevere through the hard trials of it. So we've really got the foundation from Coach Graham and his staff, and the rest is on us, and we're capable.

Q: Confess -- weren't you guys just really teed off by the announcement?

I had mixed emotions. I was pretty upset that a few days ago, he signed a contract extension and told us he was committed to us, and that he wasn't going to leave until 2012. And then all of a sudden, two days later, he's gone. That's something that you don't like-- being treated unfairly and be lied to like that, especially from a guy that went through those trials with you all season long.

I was kind of upset a little bit since I'd heard about it, but that's over with; it is what it is, and I'm looking forward to whoever comes in here, and we'll go an move on from here. And I'm excited about where we're at.

Q: So are you already running through in your mind the game plan for next season's game with Tulsa?

Well, no, we've got five to seven, eight games before that. So we're not going to just want Tulsa to be a big game and a mark of success for us. We've got several other games to win first. And we want to, obviously, win another conference championship, and go to a bigger bowl. We want to compete against Baylor and Tech and Texas. We want to able to play and beat those guys. That's our goal going into the season. We want to win every single game you play, and that's how we're going to approach it.

But when that game gets here, though, I can tell you that there's going to be a lot of intensity that week in practice.

Q: Is Coach Randolph a guy you want to see here?

I think Coach Randolph is a guy that came here and all last year went through it with us, and he knows the situation here; he spent a year here with us, and I think he'd be a good fit. But you know we have to sit down and really evaluate what we're looking for in a head coach -- and look at all the coaches out there.

Q: How do you put in perspective the coaching merry-go-round taking place on the Rice campus?

Well, it's all kind of tough to take in. You win games, and that kind of thing is just going to happen. In a way, it's more of a good thing. I'd rather it be that people are coming in here and looking to take our coaches rather than everybody being just set for ten years or more. When you win at this level, guys are going to come in from other places and try and raid your coaches.  Actually, it's a good thing.

--P.T.H.

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