Pay June Big, Or He Could Be Gone

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - December 12, 2007
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Just as it does every year at the end of the college football season, the coaching carousel has once again revved up as coaches have lost their jobs and others hunt down bigger pay days. The names come as no surprise - Brian Kelley, Les Miles, Greg Schaino, Kirk Ferentz, Jeff Tedford and of course, if the price is right, Nick Saban. New to this list has been Chris Peterson, rumored to be a favorite for the UCLA job and Navy coach Paul Johnson who will be the new man at Georgia Tech and who became one of only about 29 teams to beat the Fighting Irish this season.

With all the who’s-going-where rumors circulating, there has been one name conspicuously missing from the ranks.

Well, two actually, but we’ve already chronicled the employment difficulties for the guy who has made a career of turning average QBs into All-Americans. Looks like Norm Chow will have to settle for his $2 million salary and the NFL.

No, the guy we’re talking about boasts the nation’s longest winning streak, has his team headed to a BCS bowl game, developed a Heisman Trophy finalist, has put 16 men into the NFL, pulled off the greatest turnaround in NCAA history during his first year on the job, and teaches an offense that has racked up an average of 46 points per game during an undefeated season.

Of course, anyone who has ventured into the big rusting bucket in Halawa knows who the mystery coach is. And while they are in no hurry to see the man leave, they must be wondering why June Jones’ name has not been brought up with so many openings available.

Not that this is bad news for the 50th State. The greatest fear among fans is that a big money school will sweep into town with the ability to quadruple Jones’ salary and offer a recruiting budget that would actually allow him to recruit.

The biggest thing going for UH is that Jones is happy where he’s at. But there may come a time when the competitor inside will want to have the chance to silence the critics who say his offensive is just a gimmick that won’t work in a major conference or the NFL. Sure, it’s fun to boast that you’ve been able to build a winner on a shoestring budget, but forced to do it too many times and pride turns into frustration.

During a recent radio interview with Dan Patrick, Jones talked about having to spend 30 years defending the run-and-shoot’s ability to score in the red zone. It is that stubborn belief in his system that no doubt has cost him a few phone calls. While NCAA proponents like to think the college game to be unencumbered by the stodgy old beliefs that can bog down the NFL, the truth is that the NCAA is as fearful of change as its older counterpart. If schools all over the country find it too difficult to hire minority coaches, what are they going to do with something as bizarre as an offensive system where running the ball is an afterthought?

That being said, calls have come in over the years and, as Jones told Patrick, they have over the past three-and-a-half weeks as well. So far no one has done more than have a basic conversation, and Jones won’t budge for anything more than the head job at a big program or the NFL. At this point in his career, Jones is not an assistant.

If he stays, Jones deserves a pay raise. Of that there is no doubt, but the question is how much. According to USA Today, the average salary for the 120 major college coaches was $1 million - at least 50 topped the seven-figure mark. Jones is currently No. 62 on the list and just No. 3 in the conference. Jones’ next deal is going to have to be at least in the same ball park as Fresno State’s Pat Hill, who leads all WAC coaches at $1.2 million. While Jones’ next contract wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in the SEC, where coaches are pulling down an average of $1.9 million per season, a $1 million-plus salary will be hard to swallow for many in the 808 state. Especially since his next deal would be at least double the WAC average of $546,508.

To pay for the new contract, the university will once again have to look for boosters to foot a large part of the bill. Backers are covering half of Jones’ current $800,016 contract, and to keep June happy and in town it is going to require an even bigger commitment. The good news is that efforts are already under way as First Hawaiian Bank chairman Walter Dods and Grove Farm president Warren Haruki are in the process of raising $100,000 as a show of good faith.

The Sugar Bowl paycheck will go a long way in paying for Jones’ new deal, but finding the funds to reward the main guy won’t be as difficult as coming up with the cash to pay his assistants. Jones’ staff is underpaid, and this is a coach who stresses loyalty. Any deal will have to include increased compensation for his assistants.

Since Jones did not want to be distracted with contract talk during the season, the pressure falls on athletic director Herman Frazier to get the job done quickly.

Rumblings have already been heard about Jones being considered for the UCLA job and with Michigan fans yearning for a more wide-open offense, it shouldn’t be too surprising if June gets a call from Ann Arbor.

To be honest, he deserves it.

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