Hype Overpowers Fond Memories

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - November 07, 2007
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Hawaii Warrior Football, A Story of Faith, Hope, and Redemption, by J. David Miller, is a wonderfully laid out and constructed publication that reminds the reader of the impressive journey taken by the program, while at the same time being an over-hyped love fest that not even the most-dedicated sports information department employee would attempt to compile.

June Jones may not have brought a national title to the Islands, but the strides he has made require no false praise or purposely created hype to sell his accomplishments to an already adoring audience. Even to the most casual fan, the Warrior football program was a mess prior to June’s arrival. Since then, he has won more bowl games, more regular season games, has put more men into the NFL and has his team ranked higher than anyone who ever held the job. The book has a lot of merit, but the blatant PR and incorrect information take away from its impact - as does its repetitive catch phrase - “Are you kidding me?” - which appears 58 times throughout the 290-page book.


For a book published by a local firm for a local audience, it is surprising to see that the author and his editors failed to recognize or correct lines such as “Polynesian, Samoan and Hawaiian team-mates ...” The error, of course, being that Samoans and Hawaiians are Polynesian.

Other things to be learned. * Page 8: That the 7-5 Arizona State team that met UH in the 2006 Hawaii Bowl had “... whitewashed faces of the star struck Sun Devils as they tried desperately to avoid the stares of the Hawaii football Warriors.” The awestruck team went into the half with a 10-3 lead.

* Page 28: About June’s impact on the history of the forward pass. “Who could know that June Jones III would one day ... prove to the world that the pass, and not the run, is really the center of the football universe?” In 1934 TCU won a national championship on the arm strength of Sammy Baugh. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “When Baugh first started with the Redskins, pro football was largely a grind-it-out ground game. The forward pass was something to be used with caution, and never inside your 30-yard line, except in desperate situations. By the time Baugh was through, the forward pass was a primary offensive weapon.” Jones is a talented offensive coach, but fans of the forward pass have been around for decades.

* Page 51: The coach’s legacy. “Just as Papa Joe (Joe Pa) will forever be etched together with Penn State - or Tom Osbourne at Nebraska or Barry Switzer at Oklahoma - so, too, will Jones be remembered at Hawaii. When such men take downtrodden programs and become fathers of tradition and hope ...”

Paterno was preceded by Rip Engle, who led the Nittany Lions to a 104-48-4 record. Before Osbourne there was Bob Devaney, a winner of 101 games in 11 years including eight conference titles and two national titles. Switzer took over from Chuck Fairbanks (52-15-1), who came five years after Bud Wilkinson won a NCAA record 47 straight games including three national championships.

* Page 75: The rainbow controversy. “While rainbows have deep spiritual meaning to the indigenous people of Hawaii, the logo was no longer politically correct for a football team in an era when a rainbow stood for an entirely different kind of aloha.” And page 114: ” ... Jones did away with the controversial rainbow ...” Until the change was made, the rainbow was a cherished icon of the university and did not become controversial until it was dropped. One could also ask why, if the rainbow held such deep meaning, would the author link it to another cherished word, “aloha,” with a thinly veiled reference to homosexual sex?

* Page 111: Quarterback coach Dan Morrison’s students and the greatness of Jim Kelly. “There (at Punahou) Morrison tutored ... Steve Case and future presidential hopeful Barack Obama.” Obama graduated from Punahou in 1979, Case in 1976. According to the UH media guide and the sports information department, Morrison was the offensive coordinator at Santa Monica High School from 1973 to 1981. “In 1984, he (Morrison) traveled to Houston to watch Mouse Davis and June Jones turn Jim Kelly into the most prolific pro quarterback in history.” In 1985, Kelly led the USFL in passing yards. The next year he led the league in passing yards, completion percentage and quarterback rating. Kelly finished his Hall of Fame NFL career 14th in passing yards, 14th in completions, 17th in touchdowns and 14th in passer rating. An excellent career but hardly, “the most prolific pro quarterback in history.”

* Page 205: Jones in the NFL. “... Rolovich had always felt intimidated by June Jones. Perhaps it was June’s larger-than-life NFL legacy ...” Jones’NFL record: 22-36, 0-1 in playoffs.

While it was interesting to read that “... it’s thrilling to explore the Mouse Davis-June Jones anthropology. It’s akin to tracing physicist Stephen Hawking’s modern advances back to Albert Einstein, Einstein to Isaac Newton and Newton to Galileo” (page 103), the best portions of the book reflect on the athletes who made the June Jones system work. From the perfectly titled, “The Enigma of Timmy Chang,” to the tragic loss of “Big Red” Andy Phillips, the toughness of Dan Robinson and the manic force that was Jeff Ulbrich, Jones has coached up some talented and inspiring athletes, and the book does a nice job chronicling their stories. Other areas of interest include Jones’relationship with Jeff George, Nick Rolovich’s party boy confessions, the impact of Mouse Davis, any photo of Dennis McKnight (he may have been scarier with hair), the other new logo designs UH considered (they picked the right one), June Jones in a Fu-Man-Chu mustache and the inspirational story of James Fenderson.

But while the chapters about Ashley Lelie, Chad Owens, Polynesian Power represented by Isaac Sopoaga and Pisa Tinoisamoa conjure up great memories, it is the reintroduction to the those slightly forgotten that makes the look back truly enjoyable. Athletes such as Channon Harris and Dwight Carter, Quincy LeJay and Manly Kanoa, Yaphet Warren and Robert Kemfort, Chris Brown and Kaulana Noa, laid the foundation for the media darlings that currently inhabit the Halawa stadium, and it is fitting to recognize what they done and how well they played.

No one takes a bigger hit in the book than the coach who fans love to hate, Fred von Appen. According to the text, the years under von Appen did not just include losing records, but team discord, very little coaching and maybe religious prejudice. Although the author leaves the coach’s name unlisted, a shame because the book would have benefited with a response from the coach or von Appen, it’s a damming indictment of the program. The book says that Robinson was confronted by a coach who did not like having a Mormon on the team. “Son ... I don’t think you’re ever going to make it here ... You’re Mormon. I’m a Roman Catholic. You Mormons just don’t understand the way life is. We Catholics have grown up in the real world.” If this account is accurate, it represents the lowest point in the team’s history.


Even if the former coach didn’t hire assistants with character, he evidently was able to snag his share of players even if he didn’t think so highly of them. “They ask me to win the Kentucky Derby but they asked me to do it with mules,” he is quoted as saying, though McKnight thought otherwise. “Say what you want about [von Appen’s] coaching ability, but they did know how to recruit,” says the former Detroit Lion before continuing with a question that fans had also been asking. “How did this much talent possibly lose that many games?”

Hawaii Warrior Football, A Story of Faith, Hope, and Redemption is no Season on the Brink in that it does not go looking for the ugly underside of a successful program. The book is a feel-good story designed to shine the spotlight on a coach who in eight years has turned what was possibly the worst team in the country into a BCS bowl contender. But while the heavy Christian theme of text devotes considerable time to the power of prayer and will no doubt make many fans feel good about the program, there can be no better barometer of the team’s moral compass than the story of graduate assistant Brian Kajiyama, a wheelchair-bound Warrior fanatic who suffers from cerebral palsy and who Miller says, ” ... he (Jones) began to wonder if, in fact, the toughest guy on the field wasn’t inside the fence, but outside.” It may be Jones’best call as coach.

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