Kalani Simpson Sidelines

Kalani Simpson

Friday, November 19, 2004

Lumpkin’s legacy
full of hits

SO we the people, with our torches and pitchforks, have apparently decided it's time to hold someone accountable for what has happened this UH football season. We've found our scapegoat, on the Internet and on the call-in shows. This is all somebody's fault.

And we've got Hawaii defensive coordinator George Lumpkin all lined up as this season's sacrificial lamb.

I'm not buying that.

I'm not going along with that.

Now, you can see what people are thinking. With scores like 41, 51, 69 and 70, you can see how the defensive coordinator would be catching heat. And on principle, to a degree, I don't really have a problem with that, and I don't think he does either. When the odometer hits 70, people have reason to squawk, and they will, and you have to expect it.

But let's not forget who we're talking about.

It was Channel 2's John Veneri -- himself a former Hawaii player under Bob Wagner -- who felt compelled to answer this storm of Lumpkin criticism this week by noting that UH has had a long-standing tradition of hard hitting and tough tackling and physical play. No, the Rainbows did not always win. The score may not have always been pretty. But opponents always left the game knowing that some rugged defense had been played.

They always felt it the next day. Or often, that same day. This was UH football.

You know this is true.

And Veneri's point was to remind us that Lumpkin -- who has been on the UH staff for a total of almost 30 years -- had been a defensive coach through so many of those big hits. He had most certainly been a part of it.

On so many of Hawaii's greatest defensive days, Lumpkin was a defensive coach.

So it's incredible to hear this guy's name now associated with the words "poor tackling."

Now, I think we all figure by now that Lumpkin is no Buddy Ryan. But then, June Jones didn't want a Buddy Ryan.

(What happens when you hire Buddy Ryan? Two things -- one, he gets as much credit and attention as the head coach. Two, your team is divided against itself. Neither of these is good.)

While Jones praised Kevin Lempa as a person and as a coach, when Lempa moved on to Boston College before spring practice in 2003, you get the idea he thought the last defensive coordinator might have done a little too much coordinating.

Lempa had added, adjusted, innovated and implemented. It was his way, and for the most part it worked.

But he was asking his guys to do some significant brainwork. His hybrid scheme apparently led to some inconsistent rules, which can make life difficult for players who are expected to react in an instant.

Jones preferred a single philosophy, a simpler scheme, which Jones re-installed during that 2003 spring practice.

Then Lumpkin officially got the job, and Jones handed him the new scheme to carry out.

Keep it simple.

Don't tinker with it.

It's going to work better this way.

It better fits the personnel.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Ah, personnel. That's been a big problem on defense this year, in health and quality and quantity. And since Lumpkin does have a lot of responsibility in the recruiting department, I guess you could hit him for that if you really wanted.

But here is what he has: He has a simplified scheme, one that would probably work if he had the horses. His job is not really to come up with any brainy new adjustments, a la Buddy or even a la Lempa. He's working within a practice philosophy that limits hitting and contact, which some, including me, think might make the game day hits a shock to the system.

His squad has been hit with a rash of injuries, and who knows why. Though it's to such an extent now that it's starting to look, to use a Kanoa Leahey word, "systemic."

When Hawaii has won, Lumpkin has been almost perfect in his play-calling when it comes to blitzes. When UH has lost, it hasn't really looked like it even mattered.

He's playing the hand he's dealt.

Hey, he's the defensive coach and the buck makes a stop at his stationary bike and when somebody scores 70 he's going to catch heat. And that's fine.

But I'm not laying this all on one man.

Not when that man has helped coach some of the nation's toughest tacklers for almost 30 years.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Kalani Simpson can be reached at ksimpson@starbulletin.com



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