Under Jones, Hawaii becomes haven for spread offense, second chances
June Jones' modest football office at the University of Hawaii is the same run-down room former coach Dick Tomey sat in 20 years ago.
"Same carpet, too," Jones said matter-of-factly.
The recruiting budget also hasn't moved since Jones took the job in December of 1998. It's been three years since he has traveled from Honolulu to the mainland to recruit. And until 2006, Hawaii's coaches did not have DVD equipment to share and record game film. The one camera they did have, Jones won at a Sony Pro-Am golf tournament.
Hawaii's outdated facilities, though, are about the only things that haven't improved since Jones took over. The program he inherited was 0-12. Now it is 12-0 for the first time in school history -- the only unbeaten team remaining in Division I-A. Hawaii had never been to a bowl game in the previous five seasons before Jones. Now the No. 10-ranked Warriors will play in their sixth -- a BCS game -- and will face Georgia in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1. Hawaii is on a 13-game winning streak -- the longest in the nation and in school history -- and has won 22 of its past 23 games.
"I honestly believe he's the best coach in college football," said Portland State coach Jerry Glanville, who gave Jones his first NFL coaching job as an assistant with the Houston Oilers and was Jones' defensive coordinator at Hawaii from 2005 to '06. "I know, having been there and seeing the resources to work with and then you look back and see everybody they've beaten And they don't have any resources to do that. They have no way they should ever do that.
"The next coach at Hawaii won't last a season," Glanville said. "[Jones] makes it all work. He's the reason they're so successful."
Jones' philosophy is rooted in the island culture. He uses words like ohana, which is Hawaiian for "family" -- a concept he has built the program around by putting the team leadership in the hands of the Polynesian players. His slogan is Eo na toa, which means, "This is battle! You must respond!" He signs every e-mail with Mahalo, which means "thanks."
And he means it.
"What I sell to players that come here is the experience and the people of Hawaii," Jones said. "If an athlete is going to come here and play for us, they're not coming for our facilities. They're not coming for anything else but the relationship I have with my players and that we have with the people of Hawaii."
It's a relationship Jones chose instead of becoming the head coach of the San Diego Chargers. He chose the worst college football program in America, one that had lost 18 straight games -- all for 1/8 of the salary.
A few years after he hired the man who would become the winningest coach in UH history, former Hawaii athletic director Hugh Yoshida told Jones, "You really took a gamble coming over."
"It could've meant his career as a head football coach," said Yoshida, who retired in 2003. "You need to understand what our economic climate was at that time. We were going through a recession. Everything in the media was negative. People were holding two jobs to make ends meet. He came when it was the bleakest point of not only Hawaii football, but the economy of the state of Hawaii.
"By becoming the head coach at the university, that was a really strong message not only to those in athletics, but the entire state of Hawaii."
One of the questions Yoshida still remembers asking Jones during the interview process was about having four wide receivers on the field. Former coaches had said it was tough enough to get one tall, fast receiver who could catch the ball. Jones said that as long as the player could run and catch the ball, size didn't mean a whole lot.
Hawaii has led the WAC and finished in the top five nationally in passing for nine straight seasons. The Warriors lead the nation in scoring with 46.2 points per game, rank second in passing offense (450.2) and third in total offense (529.3).
"When I took the job, I made the statement that I wanted to create a tradition of winning here like other schools that are perennial winners," said Jones, who led the Warriors to the school's first outright conference championship this year. "I knew we'd have a chance if we got the kids into our offense to be a top-20 team. We've proven it."
The Warriors have not scored fewer than 28 points or generated less than 430 yards of offense in any game this season. Three different receivers have more than 1,000 yards and at least 12 touchdowns each. Two of them -- Davone Bess and Ryan Grice-Mullen -- are averaging over 100 receiving yards per game.
"He's an absolute genius on Saturdays," said Heisman Trophy finalist Colt Brennan, a walk-on who was one of the many players given a second chance by Jones.
His players aren't the only ones who have received a second chance.
On Feb. 22, 2001, Jones was driving his black Lincoln Town Car down the H-1 freeway when he dozed off. The car veered into a concrete pillar and was destroyed to the point where the Hawaii Police Department had to call the athletic department to check his license plate.
"They couldn't identify him," Yoshida said.
Friends say that had Jones been wearing his seat belt, the golf club that snapped in half next to him would have gone straight through him.
Instead, it pierced the back of his leather seat.
Still, Jones had internal bleeding from a ruptured aorta -- a usually fatal injury that the doctors stumbled upon by chance, and very late. Jones was in the intensive care unit for about a month, and in a coma for almost a week.
"There's absolutely no explanation for a doctor to say why I'm living," Jones said.
Instead, he found the answer in his faith.
"The last four years or so I realized the good Lord saved me," Jones said. "[He] put me on the earth for a reason, to help not just with football, but in their lives and impacting, seeing some of the things that have happened off the field with my players has meant more to me and given me the realization God saved me."
In June of 2008, Jones' contract will expire. Hawaii athletic director Herman Frazier said he and Jones have had a "few conversations about it." Jones' current salary is reportedly $800,016, making him the highest-paid public employee in the state.
"He enjoys the university, but like everybody else, if you're good, people are going to come after you," Frazier said. "I think the university and the administration will come across with a nice offer for him to remain at the University of Hawaii."
Other programs are sure to counter.
"I always get contacted every year by people, but it would have to be a special situation for me to leave," Jones said. "I'll never say never, but it would have to be a special situation."
Darrel "Mouse" Davis, Jones' former coach at Portland State, said his former college quarterback deserves more.
"It just seems to me that he is due for a job somewhere on the mainland that would at least double his salary," Davis said. "How much do you have to prove?"
If nothing else, Jones has proved he can win with unheralded players, practice without FieldTurf, and work in the same old shabby office his coach once used.
"The facilities only take you so far," Brennan said. "It makes your school pretty, but it's the hard work and the effort that makes you a winner."
It's Jones, though, who made Hawaii ohana.
Heather Dinich is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at email@example.com.
2007 Bowl Season
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