1999, 2007 Warrior teams will always be special to McMackin
NEW ORLEANS » Greg McMackin has been around the block so many times as a defensive coordinator, he couldn't possibly remember every stop along the way.
But if anyone asks him what two seasons are his favorites as an assistant football coach, his mind spits out the information like a super computer.
"The two most special football teams are the one I coached here in 1999 and this one," McMackin said. "It's not even close."
Now for those who don't know the D coordinator for the University of Hawaii they might think he's blowing smoke like John Wayne in an old western movie. On the surface, it's easy to like your surroundings when you take a team in 1999 that had lost 18 in a row and lead it to an Oahu Bowl win over Oregon State, or be a part of the current squad that's a perfect 12-0.
But for McMackin, it runs much deeper than wins and losses. These two teams had hearts the Tin Man would cry over, and a belief system he hasn't seen that often in his 40 years on the sideline.
"You see, the big thing that first year is those kids didn't know how to win," McMackin said. "It was a great job by (UH head coach) June (Jones) and the rest of the staff in teaching them how to win. We found that kid Jeff Ulbrich, who kind of became the heart and soul of that program. Seeing those guys win was special as a coach.
"This group knew how to win. They just needed to have things tweaked a little bit. And get together and play together. What they've done this year and coming back like they have, this group played with so much heart and that group did, too. But I've never been around a group that fought and believed, and played with passion and played with love for each other like this one. It's so much closer a group than the '99 team."
The love is reciprocated by the players, especially defensive lineman Mike Lafaele. While Jerry Glanville did a lot the last two years to get these guys in playing shape, it was McMackin who led them to the top of sugar mountain.
"When Coach Glanville was here, he didn't know any of our names; he called us by our numbers," Lafaele said. "But last summer, Coach McMackin knew who each of us were and what we contributed to the program. He instilled in us positive attitudes, teamwork, leadership and discipline."
AFTER THE 1999 season, McMackin got a job offer at Texas Tech he couldn't refuse. At the time, the Red Raiders offered him more money to be an associate head coach than Jones made as the main man for the Warriors. McMackin was reluctant to leave, but he also knew seasons like the one in '99 don't come by that often.
Now, here he is again with a team that believes destiny is part of the playbook. The passion play of this unit can't be measured in height, weight and speed alone. The UH defense likes to hit and compete. And no matter how far behind this group fell, McMackin never saw defeat in their eyes.
"They love football in Hawaii like they do in the South," McMackin said. "They play because they love the game; they're passionate about it. That's something you can't teach. It comes from within. This is the best year I've ever had, coaching wise. Best experience. I've had two of them, but this is the most special."
Sports Editor Paul Arnett
has been covering sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1990. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org