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(All information as of June 20, 2007)
COACH AND PROGRAM
Two things became immediately apparent in David Bailiff's first few months as Rice's new head coach.
First, he could tell the Owls felt burned by Todd Graham's decision to leave Rice after one year to become the head coach at Conference USA rival Tulsa.
"The first thing we had to do as a staff was regain their trust," said Bailiff, who came to Rice after three seasons as the head coach at Texas State. "Trust is all about doing what you say you're going to do, and that's what we've done with these guys every day. Every thing we said we were going to do, we've done, and I think they trust us now. They believe in us and what we're doing."
At the same time, Bailiff also realized his new players gained something valuable from the 2006 season. The Owls overcame a 1-5 start and the death of freshman defensive back Dale Lloyd and won five games by a total of 15 points on the way to a 7-5 regular-season record and the program's first bowl since 1961. Not even a one-sided loss to Troy in the New Orleans Bowl could diminish the impact of the 2006 season on the Owls' newfound and hard-earned self-assurance.
"There's a lot of excitement from this team, from the university and from the community now," Bailiff said. "The guys see themselves as winners and they know they can compete. So for 15 days in spring, they went out there every day with a winning attitude.
"It's a really fabulous thing when you have 15 days of spring practice and you think that in all 15 days we got better. That's just a tribute to those kids' attitudes. They believe in themselves now."
With the Owls believing in the new coaches and themselves, this appears to be a far different Rice team than the one that suffered through a 1-10 season in 2005, the program's first Conference USA season and its last under Ken Hatfield.
Of course, the Owls aren't the only ones who know they're better than before. The rest of the conference knows it, too, giving Rice one more challenge to overcome this season.