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Rice hires Tulsa assistant Graham as coach

HOUSTON -- Rice introduced Tulsa defensive coordinator Todd
Graham as its new head coach on Sunday, one day after he helped the
Golden Hurricane win the Liberty Bowl.

Graham, 41, replaces Ken Hatfield, who resigned on Nov. 30 after
12 seasons.

"This situation is one I've researched quite a bit," Graham
said at a news conference. "There's no doubt in my mind we're
going to build a winner here."

Terms of Graham's contract were not released.

"He has a challenge, but he's met challenges before," said
Rice athletic director Bobby May. "I'm just excited to watch this
develop."

Tulsa, in its third season with Graham running the defense, was
37th overall -- allowing 342 yards per game. The Golden Hurricane
was 42nd in scoring defense, yielding 23 points a game, and fourth
in the nation in turnover margin at plus-17.

They defeated Fresno State 31-24 on Saturday in the Liberty Bowl
to finish 9-4, including a 41-21 win over Rice in October.

Tulsa coach Steve Kragthorpe was mentioned as a candidate for
the Colorado job before Boise State coach Dan Hawkins took it.
Instead of waiting to see if Kragthorpe might take another
high-profile job, Graham decided to accept Rice's offer.

"My deal is I'm a rebuilder. I enjoy the challenge," he said.
"I always tell people I always get jobs nobody else wants. This
job fits me to a 'T.'"

Three Tulsa assistants will join Graham at Rice -- defensive line
coach Danny Phillips, defensive backs coach Jason Jones and former
Tulsa graduate assistant Jess Loepp.

Under Hatfield, the Owls ran the option. Graham said a key to
turning around the program is "modernizing" the schemes.

"It's not a program that I think is decimated, that there's no
talent and no hope," Graham said. "It's just one of those things
I feel like some new ideas and modernizing our approach and what
we're doing will get kids excited in recruiting."

Graham was a two-time NAIA All-American defensive back at East
Central University in Oklahoma in the 1980s. He later served as
defensive coordinator there, helping East Central win the NAIA
championship in 1993.

A native of Mesquite, Texas, Graham coached at Allen High
School, north of Dallas, from 1995-2000 before becoming the
linebackers coach at West Virginia in 2001. He was promoted to
co-defensive coordinator there in 2002, then moved to Tulsa in
2003.

"He's just an enthusiastic, very aggressive, very dedicated,
great coach," May said. "And he's a great fit for Rice."

Rice went 1-10 in 2005, the team's worst mark under Hatfield and
the program's worst since the Owls lost all 11 games in 1988 under
Jerry Berndt.

Rice lost 14 straight games between 2004-05 and ended what had
been the nation's longest Division I-A winless streak with a 42-34
win over Tulane on Nov. 12.

Graham said he could make Rice a winner again within two to
three years.

"Anything less than being Conference USA champions and bowl
champions is unacceptable," Graham said. "I always see those
funny looks in the faces of people everywhere I've been who really
doubt that. But two to three years from now, we'll have all those
things changed."

One of his first priorities is just getting fans to care.

The losing led to embarrassing attendance levels at 70,000-seat
Rice Stadium. Rice averaged 10,072 fans at its five home games -- an
all-time low in 56 seasons. The home finale against Central Florida
on Nov. 19 drew 8,267.

Graham promised to build back the fan base "one handshake at a
time," but acknowledged that the program needs to start producing
immediately.

"We're not going to ask for something without giving you
results," Graham said. "The biggest thing to get things turned
around is to win."

Graham met with some players before Sunday's announcement. They
liked what they heard.

"We don't like that we were a 1-10 team," said sophomore
offensive lineman Lute Barber. "I like his passion and he seems to
have a passion to turn things around. I can't wait to get things
going."

The team didn't have a clear offseason training plan.

"We didn't know what to do or what to work on," said freshman
quarterback John Shepherd. "We were all just waiting. It was
tough, but I'm really excited now."

Graham is not related to Rice baseball coach Wayne Graham, who
led the Owls to their first NCAA championship in 2003.