Jones creates a contender
Ex-PSU quarterback installs winning tradition at Hawaii
Despite what it may seem, it has not all been a bed of roses for June Jones in Luau Land.
The eighth-year football coach at the University of Hawaii has done wonders with a once woebegone program. In the wake of the Warriors' successful season - 10-2, a top 25 ranking and leading the nation in scoring, total offense and pass offense - his popularity on the island is at an all-time high.
But Jones, 53, has been the subject of controversy at times. He was behind the move to change the school color scheme and its nickname (from Rainbows), and he has taken criticism from locals at times for a number of things that were done - in his mind, at least - in the best interests of the program.
'Especially early, June got some people here upset,' says Herm Frazier, Hawaii's athletic director since 2002. 'All he was trying to do was get the program attention and help its ability to recruit athletes. That's what it's all about. Change is one of those things that is sometimes not willingly accepted by everybody, but June knows exactly what he's doing.
'He's done a great job for us. Among the nation's top 25 teams, I suspect Hawaii and Boise State have the two smallest budgets. We're doing it with smoke and mirrors, maybe, but we're doing it with excellent leadership.'
Jones has dreams and big plans, and he's not the kind to back down from a challenge. The one-time Grant High and Portland State quarterback, who also played a couple of seasons at Hawaii before transferring to PSU, exhibited his élan this week.
He criticized former Michigan State coach John L. Smith ('he's a crybaby. And we beat him, just like Purdue') and talked publicly about the Warriors' bold endeavor to market the team through merchandising and telecasts to Asia.
Building a tradition
The season before Jones arrived, Hawaii went 0-12. In 1999, his first season, the Warriors went 9-4, beat Oregon State in the Oahu Bowl and enjoyed the biggest turnaround in NCAA history.
'My goals haven't changed since I got here,' says Jones, who boasts a 62-39 record going into Saturday's game against Oregon State. 'I want to win consistently. They have had winning teams here, but never a tradition of winning. That's what I said I wanted to do when I came here. This will be our fifth bowl game, and we really should have gone to six.'
Jones' offensive genius spawns from his three-decade-long relationship with Mouse Davis and his introduction to the run-and-shoot offense in the 1970s at Portland State. Jones has parlayed that into a successful coaching career that included stops as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons and San Diego Chargers.
OSU coach Mike Riley says Jones - who preceded Riley as coach of the Chargers - has one of the most brilliant offensive minds in football.
'I have the same kind of respect for Mike,' Jones says. 'When I was leaving the Chargers, (General Manager) Bobby Beathard really liked Mike, and I seconded that decision. I felt he was the right man for that job.'
Jones has worked to overcome many obstacles at Hawaii, but none more than the 2001 single-car crash that nearly took his life. He suffered a torn aorta and was in a coma for weeks before beginning the long road to recovery. Jones will never be 100 percent healthy, but he has learned to live with it.
'I'm probably as good as I'm going to be physically, but my body is still kind of beat up,' he says. 'I go in spurts where my body can't deal with it, but it's OK. It's just gonna be that way.'
Local kids make difference
This has been a hallmark season for Jones, one of nine finalists for the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year Award. His quarterback, junior Colt Brennan, 'is as good a player as anybody in America,' Jones says. The Warriors have taken the whipping stick to nearly every opponent this fall.
'We had a pretty good team in 2001 (9-3), but this group is doing what we ask about as well as a team could,' he says. 'I saw signs of it coming together last season. I knew once we got the kids to fit in our offense, we would do the things we needed to do to get where we wanted to be.'
One of the keys was convincing the good Hawaiian players to stay.
'From the '70s through the '90s, not one of the top players stayed home,' Jones says. 'Since I've been here, in four of the years, we've kept 100 percent of the kids we wanted, and gotten eight of 10 the other years. We've given them a reason to stay home. And for the first time, we've been able to compete for kids we want on the mainland.'
Jones has pushed the Hawaiian culture as a key component to his program.
'My first year, we had 19 local or Polynesian kids on our roster,' he says. 'Of our 105 players this season, 76 are Polynesian, Samoans or Hawaiians. They identify with the roots and the culture. I knew that had to happen to beat a Purdue, an Alabama, a Michigan State or an Oregon State.'
Jones has tweaked his run-and-shoot over the years.
'We still have a lot of the basic concepts, but I'm not going to lie to you - I've stolen from everybody,' he says. 'From Bill Walsh, from Ted Marchibroda … if you're not constantly improving yourself 30 percent every year, you're not keeping up with the defenses. We're ahead of the game, and we've been ahead of the game for the last 15 years.
'I know Oregon State is going to come up with a different defensive scheme to play us Saturday, but we can adapt quickly because we've been at it longer than anybody.'
Oregon ties remain
Interest in the Hawaii program is at an all-time high. A sellout crowd of 50,000 is expected Saturday. In addition, a pay-per-view system on the island of Oahu averages between 10,000 and 15,000 buys a game at $10.95 per hit.
'A whole lot of people are watching our games, even if the attendance sometimes doesn't reflect it,' he says.
Saturday's game is more meaningful for Jones because of his continued Oregon ties. Three of his children - Jenni, 31; Kelli, 29, and June IV, 12 - live in the state. Jenni and Kelli run a beauty salon in Portland, and June IV lives with his mother in Welches. The fourth offspring, Niki, 22, is a Portland State graduate who recently took a job in public relations with the Arena Football League team in Las Vegas.
Jones has two years remaining on a contract that makes him the highest-paid public employee in the state of Hawaii (the governor got involved in negotiations for his last extension in 2002). Frazier says he soon will embark on extending Jones' contract again, though another NFL opportunity could lure the coach away.
'This is the greatest place in the world for what I do and what we do,' Jones says. 'I love it here. I would never say never. If the right job offer came, I would certainly listen. I know that opportunity is going to present itself one day, and I'll have to make a decision. But for now, I'm happy right where I am.'