TEXAS LONGHORNS NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
A champ's work is never finished
Former UH coach Duane Akina woke up as a national champion yesterday
Duane Akina was at his home in Austin, Texas, last night, two time zones away from the delirium of the night before, when he helped coach the Texas Longhorns to a national championship.
"I think my biggest accomplishment was making sure our entire family (including son Kainoa, the former Hawaii quarterback) was ready to go to the airport at 8:30 in the morning and get home," Akina said with a laugh.
The millions who watched the Rose Bowl on Wednesday would probably disagree.
USC coach Pete Carroll's decision to go for it instead of punt with a lead in the closing minutes will long be questioned in the wake of the Trojans' 41-38 loss.
But the Longhorns coaches -- including co-defensive coordinator Akina -- immediately took a risk of their own when USC's vaunted offense lined up at the Texas 45 with 2 yards to go for the first down and the Trojans leading by five points with 2:09 left in the national championship game. The Longhorns braintrust went with "Sam Tight, Will Charge." If the scheme failed to stop USC -- as it had earlier -- the Texas coaches would be left wide open for second-guessing, too.
"It was a defense (USC running back) LenDale White had scored against earlier untouched," the Hawaii-born and -raised Akina said in a phone interview yesterday. "But we executed a little better. It's basically a hitting-some-gaps, a send-'em-all defense. An all or nothing deal."
The Longhorns got all. Michael Huff, Texas' All-America safety, stopped White short of the first down, and quarterback Vince Young did the rest.
But it wouldn't have mattered without Huff's stop. It also helped that Texas' defense kept Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush from running wild.
"They had a lot of great weapons, a quarterback and two different types of tailbacks in White and Bush, a great receiver in Jarrett. We built it to stop the run and avoid one-on-one matchups (with Bush) in the throwing game. They still tried to get Reggie loose on wheel routes and they were successful with a couple little dumps," Akina said.
The Longhorns' pick-your-own-poison plan hinged on USC's other Heisman winner,
quarterback Matt Leinart, being less than perfect. It worked, but barely.
"He was a better scrambler than we anticipated. We wanted to control Reggie and force them to go 10- to 12-play drives. Leinart struggled a little bit against UCLA, and we thought we could match up with their receivers," said Akina, a former quarterback at Punahou (Class of '75) and Washington (Class of '79). "But the guy who played against UCLA did not play against us. He was on target.
"It was kind of a classic game. Great quarterbacks, like a Super Bowl. We made a turnover. Then it started unfolding as we'd hoped, we got them into third and longs. But then they got some momentum, then we got momentum. It went back and forth."
Akina has coached Chris McAlister (at Arizona), Quentin Jammer, Nathan Vasher and Huff -- all players who could've gone pro early but decided to return to school. He said he would not try to advise Young on whether to turn pro or return to Texas for his senior year, even if asked.
"I think it's real unfair for any coach to say you need to do this or that in that situation. There are pros and cons in every situation. Vince is a smart guy and he'll make the right decision for him and his family."
The fact that Texas played in the Rose Bowl last year (and beat Michigan) helped the Longhorns, Akina said.
"We had the same hotel, same practice field, same itinerary. It was routine for us," he said. "Everything about the game was magnified, but the players had been through it before. Still we were exhausted by the end of the week and the calm of the night before the game was refreshing."
Akina, a former assistant at Hawaii and Arizona under Dick Tomey, was considered a candidate for the last two head-coach openings at UH. He said he is in no hurry to run his own program somewhere -- although it is a goal.
"Actually, I've never applied (for a head coaching job), but if people think my work is worthy enough to be considered ... "
A national championship is a nice addition to the résumé.