Jones: Our Most Talented Team

Bobby Curran
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Friday - July 28, 2006
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Last Saturday afternoon, several sports types gathered at a Kahala Mall restaurant for an informal chat with Warrior head football coach June Jones. Dave Reardon, beat writer for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, KITV sports director and ESPN 1420 AM radio analyst Robert Kekaula and yours truly were asking questions of the coach exactly six weeks prior to Hawaii’s opener on the road against Alabama.

These sessions have no rules; only very occasionally will Jones decline to answer a question on the record, usually because of NCAA restrictions on discussing potential players not actually enrolled at UH. Observing social niceties at the outset, a couple of things were apparent. Jones is in excellent health, his golf game is not where he’d like it to be but would be considered excellent by most of the rest of us, he’s spending considerable time watching his son play Little League baseball, and his enthusiasm for his football team as he begins his eighth season is as high as ever.

One common thread shared by successful coaches is their vision of their program. Coaches who win have a system they believe in, can fix it when it’s broke and can convince their coaches and players that it works. A central tenet of Jones’philosophy is that the run and shoot offense that he ran as a collegian and has endlessly refined since, will succeed against any defense if properly executed.

When he discusses the offense it is with complete conviction. No poor result can shake that certainty; it only means it is not being run correctly. He is as sure of his system as a Baptist preacher is of salvation.

And the numbers bear him out. Yet when I asked him about specific numbers, like the possibility of 5,500 passing yards, he waved it away.

“I don’t think of things like that,” Jones said. “The nature of this offense is that we’ll put up yards and points, but the goal is to score one more point than they do, to win the game.”

Jones allowed that this is his most talented team offensively, especially considering its depth.

That confirms what many outside the program already think. On his ESPN radio show, college football guru Mel Kiper said recently that Hawaii might have the best offense in the country. Consider that slotbacks Davone Bess and Ryan Grice-Mullins both had over 1,000 yards, first year QB Colt Brennan was way over 4,000 yards with 35 touch-downs and 13 interceptions, the offensive line is experienced and RB Nate Ilaoa is finally healthy and in top condition, and you expect big things, maybe even great things, on that side of the ball. Jones admits that the defense has to improve, and he’s optimistic that it will. He raved about inside LB Solomon Elimimian, and thinks Adam Leonard may be as good. He likes the front three, and there are seven players who can play at those positions.

Asked how important it is that Leonard Peters has been granted an extra year, Jones was succinct. “It’s huge.”

He did not shy away from commenting on special teams.

“We were terrible last year,” said Jones.

This year, Dennis McKnight returns to the staff and he was successful at instilling an attitude, and a swagger, that made players eager to participate rather than escape the chore.

Asked about the stress inherent in coaching, Jones shrugged.

“I’m not a high-stress guy,” he said. “Guys are stressed because they worry about losing their jobs. I don’t worry because I know we can win here with what we do.” There’s that conviction again.

He talked about hiring staff. “Loyalty,” Jones said, “is the most important thing.”

And he addressed the question most Hawaii fans are asking. “Can we beat Alabama? “Yeah, we can. But we’ll have to play our very best.”

You got the feeling that he’s already working on that list of 20 scripted plays, and he’s having fun doing it.

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