Play Calling Change A Big Deal

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - September 16, 2009
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He sure made it sound reasonable enough. A need had arisen and a change was made for the lone purpose of team improvement. No one got canned, paychecks and most of the responsibilities will remain unchanged, and a young, talented coach gets the chance to further showcase his abilities.

That was the crux of the argument presented by Greg McMackin last week during his weekly Call the Coach program on 1420 AM. Mac said Ron Lee will always be his offensive coordinator, and that weekly game-planning would remain unchanged. Lee will finalize the offensive plan following input from the entire staff.

For all of Mac’s good humor and assurances, the move remains unsettling. It is a rare coach who voluntarily surrenders his duties, even if such a move is in the best interest of the team. Most changes in responsibility are preceded by poor performance, and the idea of an offensive coordinator not calling plays can’t help but force the wheels of conspiracy into motion. That the move came during the season is even more concerning.

Had such a change occurred to a BCS conference member the national dialogue would have been deafening. Fortunately for the Warriors, the only second guessing will come from local sources, as the national media has ignored the announcement.

Like every program, UH has faced its share of fan- and media-based coaching concerns. Criticizing coaches is a cottage industry, but along with each gaff have come louder and more frequent complaints concerning the aptitude of certain coaches - none more so than Lee, who’s had the unenviable task of following the Pied Piper of the run and shoot, June Jones, who produced his own list of questionable calls during his time in Manoa.

In fact, the only coach - current or former - who has stayed above the fray of criticism is former line coach Mike Cavanaugh, who lived up to his reputation as a great developer of young talent. Since his departure after the 2004 season, UH has gone through four offensive line coaches, with none approaching Cav’s level of success.

So what is the message to an already nervous fan base? No matter the amount of praise McMackin offers to his first in offensive command, it’s going to take more than kind speech to overcome the belief that Lee wasn’t demoted or that the move wasn’t made out of desperation.

Nick Rolovich may be a star in the making, but being thrust into the role of play caller is a huge leap for a position coach with just three years of experience, one of which was at the City College of San Francisco. The importance of the change cannot be downplayed. Play calling is critical.

One has to look no further for evidence than to the defense, where ensuring the right assignments is important enough to be handled by the head coach himself. A successful Rolo will also increase the pressure on McMackin’s old friend. A blossoming offense will, in the public eye, make Lee more expendable.

The first half against Central Arkansas left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, and adjustments, like the ones made at half-time that produced the win, are needed in the face of three straight road games and the usual tough tests versus Fresno State, Nevada and Boise State before closing with Navy and Wisconsin. It remains to be seen where the team stands in comparison to its WAC counterparts. The Warriors could as easily finish on the upper tier of the conference as fail to qualify for the Hawaii Bowl - which would be an embarrassment and put even more pressure on a coach who may have to make even more changes to keep himself out of the firing line.

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