Team Preview: Rice
The Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook previews the 2006 Rice Owls, exclusively on Insider.
Todd Graham doesn't have any illusions about the size of the rebuilding job confronting him at Rice.
He knows he's inheriting a program that went 1-10 last season and has enjoyed just five winning seasons in the 40 years since the legendary Jess Neely retired in 1966. He knows he's taking over a program with some of the highest academic standards in Division I-A and with perhaps the toughest nonconference schedule of any team in college football.
"I'm not saying it's going to be easy," Graham said. "It's a very difficult job. I didn't come here without looking very closely at the program. We believe we can win. We do have a plan. We're going to get it done."
Graham, 41, speaks from experience when it comes to rebuilding a downtrodden program. As an assistant to Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia, Graham helped turn a 3-8 loser into a 9-3 winner in his second season. At Tulsa, he was the defensive coordinator for a team that was 1-11 in 2002 before his arrival, 8-4 in 2003 and Conference USA champions in 2005.
Rice administrators hope Graham can work the same magic as a head coach that he did as a top defensive assistant. He replaces the respected Ken Hatfield, who actually had a pretty good run at Rice -- three of those five winning seasons since Neely left were his -- but he leaves behind a program that was on decline since a surprising eight-win season in 2001.
Graham hit the ground running when he arrived in Houston, selling the program to long-discouraged fans, overseeing a $5 million renovation of aging Rice Stadium and hauling in a recruiting class that was ranked one of the best in Conference USA.
It's all part of what he calls "Renaissance Rice."
"We've got a great tradition," he said, reaching back to the days when Neely's Owls were a power in the Southwest Conference. "When a program's been down, you need a jolt of energy. I think we've got people excited again."