HOUSTON (AP) – Rice coach Ken Hatfield resigned Wednesday, one day after he defiantly said he didn’t anticipate any staff changes following a 1-10 season.

Less than 30 hours after Hatfield said he was looking forward to next season’s opener, he announced his decision to step down after 12 seasons at another news conference with athletic director Bobby May.

“I’m hoping that today, the Rice administration, the board, the faculty and all the friends will rally around this new opportunity,” Hatfield said.

“I felt this was the right time for some new blood.”

When asked what had changed in his mind since Tuesday’s news conference, Hatfield simply said, “Nothing.”

May said Hatfield was “not in a position” to make an announcement on Tuesday because the school had not finalized the terms of his departure.

“The fact is, that something of this magnitude takes time,” May said. “There is a process involved and until that process is brought to a conclusion, there is no change you can discuss.”

May said that discussions over Hatfield’s resignation were “amicable, never adversarial.” He would not give details of Hatfield’s termination agreement, but said Hatfield made the decision to leave on his own.

The players gave Hatfield a standing ovation after the coach made an opening statement.

Quarterback Chase Clement said the Owls were unaware of Hatfield’s intentions until a team meeting on Wednesday.

“It was kind of a surprise, even though the rumors were going on,” Clement said. “It’s tough. It’s going to be hard to play for a different staff.”

May said the process of finding a replacement “will begin immediately.”

Rice is a private institution with strict academic requirements, but May is confident the school can find a coach who can win while maintaining high standards.

“He’s going to have to wear a lot of hats, but I don’t think that’s a challenge that is insurmountable,” May said. “That person is out there.”

On Tuesday, Hatfield bristled at questions about his future, saying the Owls were a few plays away from being much better than 1-10.

Hatfield, 62, became Rice’s coach in 1994. The 1-10 mark was the team’s worst during Hatfield’s tenure and the Owls’ worst mark since they went 0-11 under Jerry Berndt in 1988.

Rice lost 14 straight games between 2004-05, ending what had been the nation’s longest Division I-A losing streak with a 42-34 win over Tulane on Nov. 12.

Attendance at 70,000-seat Rice Stadium dwindled to embarrassing levels this year. Rice averaged 10,072 fans at its five home games – an all-time low in 56 seasons – and the home finale against Central Florida on Nov. 19 drew only 8,267.

The sparse crowds led to a financial shortfall that May said is one of the main challenges awaiting the new coach.

To make up for losses in recent years, the school has lined up big-money road games against national powers – games the Owls have little chance of winning. They opened this season at UCLA and Texas and play both again next year.

“We’ve got a lot of people out there who’ve said they want to see the program win and thrive and be successful,” May said, “but it’s going to take a commitment from those people, in terms of their presence as well as their dollars.”

Hatfield went 55-78-1 in 12 seasons at Rice, but the Owls have had only one winning record since going 7-4 in 1997. They went 8-4 in 2001.

Hatfield previously coached at Air Force, Arkansas and Clemson. He finished the season fifth among active I-A coaches with 168 career victories.

AP-ES-11-30-05 1856EST

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