Hula coaches have dual agendas
To understand the motivation behind coaching in the Hula Bowl, all one had to do yesterday was look at the spouse of Oregon State coach Mike Riley waiting outside the Marriott Ihilani Resort after the morning walk-through.
"Coaching football is fun, but the real bonus is being able to bring my wife," Riley said shortly before being called away by the missus.
Riley and UNLV coach Mark Sanford will lead the Kai team against the Aina squad coached by Illinois' Ron Zook and Boston College's Jeff Jagodzinski in today's Cornerstone Bancard Hula Bowl beginning at 1 p.m. at Aloha Stadium.
Zook, who more than doubled his win total from the previous two seasons this year, echoed the same sentiments.
"It's nice to be able to bring the wife to Hawaii since it's very busy during the season," Zook said smiling.
The former Florida head coach won just four games in his first two years at Illinois. He rebounded this season by leading the Illini to a 9-4 record and their first Rose Bowl appearance in 24 years.
Not one player on the team had bowl-game experience when they took the field against Southern California and it showed. Before they knew what hit them, USC scored two touchdowns in the first 7 minutes and never let up in a 49-17 victory.
Similar to Hawaii's experience in the Sugar Bowl, it was an atmosphere that the current group of players had never been a part of, making it tough for Zook to adequately prepare them.
"You just have to go play it," Zook said about the Rose Bowl. "You tell them things, but once they're in it, their eyes really opened up. They understand now how big of a deal it really is and we'll be better for it."
If there's a hometown advantage among the coaches, it would belong to Riley, who is the last visiting coach to defeat Hawaii in Aloha Stadium.
His Beavers edged the Warriors 35-32 in the regular-season finale in '06. Playing in the Pacific-10 conference, Riley has to coach in some hostile environments, but ranked the experience of playing in Aloha Stadium up there with anywhere.
"I loved bringing out the team here two years ago," he said. "It was one of the great atmospheres our team has played in ever."
Riley recently completed the fifth year of his second stint as coach of the Beavers and has won bowl games in four of them.
He originally was the coach at Oregon State for two years before accepting a head coaching position with the San Diego Chargers for three seasons in the late '90s.
His trip to the Aloha State is about more than just vacation and the Hula Bowl. The Beavers have established a recruiting pipeline in Hawaii and currently have 13 local players on their roster.
Coaches aren't allowed to make contact with recruits during a dead period that ends tomorrow. Instead of heading back home, Riley will remain in the islands to converse with some of the state's top local talent.
"We can't recruit right now, but we will use (the Hula Bowl) as a kickoff to next week's recruiting."
Of Oregon State's 13 local products, none have made a bigger impact than Kahuku graduate Al Afalava. Riley called the safety "one of the best players in our conference."