Jones' departure throws Hawaii program into chaos
HONOLULU -- Six days after concluding its finest football season in history, the University of Hawaii's football program was thrown into chaos with the departure of coach June Jones and the expected resignation of athletics director Herman Frazier.
Jones, who in nine years at Hawaii transformed college football's doormat to a big bowl contender, agreed Monday to a 5-year deal worth about $2 million per year to coach at SMU.
Everyone from football fans to the governor greeted the news with shock, sadness and frustration. Many blamed the departure on Frazier, who waited until the final days to get into serious contract negotiations with Jones.
Frazier's resignation was expected to be announced at a press conference Tuesday. Frazier, who is under contract at $250,000 annually until 2010, was unavailable for comment.
"Was the ball dropped? Definitely. Is director Frazier to blame? I believe so," said state Rep. K. Mark Takai, who led a legislative briefing in May regarding concerns with the athletics program. "I don't think that the athletics program can function now with Frazier at the helm. Changes are going to have to be made."
Takai said he was "terribly disappointed" because Jones' contract could have been addressed much earlier.
University of Hawaii President David McClain acknowledged the school could have been more aggressive and timely.
"I also want to apologize to our fans and all of Hawaii for matters getting to this stage in the first place," he said. "Exceptional performance deserves exceptional recognition and your university was slow to step up. That won't happen again."
McClain wouldn't elaborate on Tuesday's announcement on the future of Frazier, who has been at Hawaii since 2002. But when asked what he expected in his athletics director in the future, McClain responded, "just what's in the athletic director's employment agreement."
"Get your coaches contracted in a timely fashion and if you've got a good coach, you take extra attention to make sure you hold on to him," he said.
Frazier was grilled by Takai during a legislative hearing in May, shortly after quarterback Colt Brennan complained to reporters about substandard athletic facilities.
Frazier had also been under fire for filling the 2007 football schedule with two Football Championship Subdivision teams and the handling of men's basketball coach Riley Wallace's departure after 20 years with the school. Frazier recently was criticized for not accepting the full allotment of Sugar Bowl tickets, creating a major ticket shortage.
"My focus as your president is to keep the drama on the athletic field and in the stadium, where it belongs, and not at the ticket window, or in contract negotiations," McClain said.
McClain and Gov. Linda Lingle made last-minute pitches to keep Jones in Hawaii, where he compiled a 76-41 record, including 4-2 in bowl games. Jones led the Warriors to an unbeaten regular season and a berth in the Sugar Bowl, where Hawaii was routed by Georgia 41-10 on Jan. 1.
The game was supposed to be a major step for the program and a catalyst for change, especially with facilities, which was one of the reasons Jones left. Jones also will be getting a big pay hike, more than doubling his $800,000 annual base salary at Hawaii.
Now, Jones is packing up for Texas, along with his run-and-shoot offense and most of his assistants.
"We gave it our best shot," McClain said.
He said a search for a new coach would commence immediately and wouldn't comment on any possible candidates.
However, in a letter to friends, Jones has mentioned several possible successors with local ties. They include New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow, San Jose State coach Dick Tomey, Texas assistant coach Duane Akina and Hawaii linebackers coach Cal Lee.
Hawaii offered Jones $1.6 million annually, according to his agent Leigh Steinberg. School officials also promised improvements, from facilities to the recruiting budget.
McClain said Jones ultimately wanted a new challenge with tremendous upside and financial support from a private university. Family was also a possible consideration.
"In our community, June's a rock star," McClain said. "In a Dallas environment, June is going to be a little more anonymous. Maybe that will give him a little more time with his family."
Don Murphy, a close friend of Jones and past president of the Na Koa football booster club, spoke to the coach hours before the announcement.
"It tore him apart," Murphy said. "That's what we have to look at. Why would somebody leave when he loves it here so much? He struggled with this thing for a long time. You can't blame him."
Murphy said the coach was excited about taking over a team that finished 1-11. Hawaii had lost 18 straight when Jones took over in 1999.
"He said it's very similar to Hawaii when he got here, but the facilities are better in Texas," Murphy said. "If he needs to get knee braces for his offensive line, it won't take six months and he won't have to go through the procurement process."
Jones had repeatedly expressed his frustrations over the facilities at Hawaii. He also complained, in a recent letter to friends, about the last-minute push by the school, spurred by the interest by Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Murphy said Jones' departure is a great loss for the school and the community.
"He's put us on the map, football wise. Nine years ago, people were laughing at us. We were 0-12 and a joke," he said. "Now, we're BCS."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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