Warriors open McMackin era
STORY SUMMARY »
Spring football is all about transition and evaluation.
There will be plenty of that for Hawaii beginning tomorrow. The Warriors start a new era with Greg McMackin replacing June Jones, who was the winningest coach in the program's history.
McMackin and Jones worked extremely well together, going 2-for-2 in WAC championships in McMackin's two years as Jones' defensive coordinator.
But now it's McMackin's show. He'll keep the run-and-shoot offense, with modifications to take some pressure off the quarterback since Heisman Trophy finalist Colt Brennan won't be back. The Warriors coaches must also determine the best players to fill all four receiver positions and several on the offensive line. Eight starters are gone from the nation's highest-scoring offense of 2007.
The start of the McMackin era also coincides with the return of one of the program's best front sevens on defense, particularly the linebackers -- Solomon Elimimian, Adam Leonard and Blaze Soares.
"I think we're going to be a physical, tough, attacking defense, and for the first time in nine years the defense will be the face of the team," McMackin told Star-Bulletin reporters Thursday.
"The face of the offense is going to evolve. We have players on offense who will evolve into outstanding players. But right now our strength is on the defensive side. The experience is on the defensive side.
"I've got to be honest. With Blaze Soares added in with two All-WAC linebackers and (defensive ends David) Veikune and (John) Fonoti, (and defensive tackles) Keala (Watson), Fale (Laeli), Rocky (Savaiigaea), we've got excellent depth. We've got some guys on defense who are gonna be hittin' it.
"And why not just say it? Let's let the big dogs eat. That's really where it's at right now."
In today's coverage on the eve of the start of spring practice, the Star-Bulletin profiles brothers Cal and Ron Lee and how they feel about their new jobs as offensive and defensive coordinator, McMackin talks about the defense and other topics in part one of a Q and A, and we provide a breakdown by position group, including the complete spring roster.
Tomorrow's coverage includes part two of the McMackin interview, a feature on the quarterback derby, and, online, live blog reports from the first practice session at UH Sports Extra.
FULL STORY »
Greg McMackin recently sat down with Star-Bulletin reporters Jason Kaneshiro, Brian McInnis and Dave Reardon to answer questions about his first spring camp as Hawaii head football coach. In today's first of two parts, McMackin talks about building a team and the strength of this year's club
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
New Hawaii football coach Greg McMackin stressed the importance of spring drills in evaluating his team on both sides of the football. "I try to be consistent," he said.
-- the defensive front seven.
Q: What will the main focus be in spring practice?
A: You're going to see a lot more fundamentals. On defense you saw us doing that last year. You're going to see quarterback drops and other techniques, receivers working on how to properly catch the ball, offensive linemen working on individual technique. Pros is more scheme, college is more individual fundamentals. We don't have as much experience among the players, so we have to coach them and make the right evaluations.
This spring is really important to us, on both sides of the ball.
Q: Can you talk about the process you use to evaluate players?
A: Different people evaluate different ways. I try to be consistent. It's my job to get the best 11 players on the field. If a guy is good enough to win for us, he'll get chances to get into the ballgame so they can show what they can do. When the lights are on, that's when you truly know what the player is all about.
We will evaluate players daily. We will grade them daily, weekly, in the scrimmages. Every position coach will grade his players, just like in a game. Because, like I've said, this isn't P.E. football, you don't play a kid because you like him. I don't care who plays, it doesn't matter to me, as long as he's the player who should be out there.
Q: How many players do you need to cut before fall camp?
A: We have 114 guys out for the spring. We can take 105 to (fall) camp. Then we have 25 to 28 recruits coming in. So, unfortunately ... then we can pick guys to come back after camp if they're good enough to help us. Again, this isn't P.E. football.
Q: Is that the hardest part of the job, cutting hard-working guys who just don't have it?
A: Yes, that's the bad part about coaching. And that's why you want to do as good a job as you possibly can in evaluating. So that we can be fair, but also so we can build the best football team possible. That's the tough thing, you have to take some opportunities away from some guys, but the NCAA limits you on the numbers.
Q: Most college football teams have some guys who you know will probably never play in a game while it's on the line, but they can help you win games by what they do in practice. Do you have a lot of those?
A: The main thing on a football team is that everybody finds a role. If they're a starter that's great, if they're on special teams that's great. There are other guys that if they can find a role on our scout team, that's how they're going to make the team.
Q: You were so deep on defense last year, with some of your best players coming off the bench as "shock troops," such as Keala Watson, David Veikune, Blaze Soares and Ryan Mouton. With those players likely moving into starting roles, do you have enough depth to continue that concept to some degree?
A: We're going to try to keep that going. Last year we had real good depth. We want to build that in the spring. (Defensive ends) David Veikune and John Fonoti are special players. What we did last year helped them, because we rolled them in. They could play 100 percent, fresh when they came in. We had Amani (Purcell) and Karl (Noa) starting, good players themselves. David and John, right now, until we find some guys to give them depth, they'd better be in shape because they're not coming out of the game.
Q: Speaking of defensive ends, have you any news on Francis Maka's NCAA clearance yet?
A: Not yet, that might take some time. But he's clear for spring practice.
Q: Who is the player you most expect to break out on defense?
A: I think Brashton (Satele) has really used the offseason workouts to his advantage. He's matured and improved his game. We already knew he was a great athlete. I think Cal Lee did a great job coaching him this last fall. He's one of the most improved guys on our football team. He's had some nagging injuries, but I think he's maturing and toughening up.
Q: Any changes in defensive philosophy from last season?
A: Defensively I think we keep our same scheme. The coaches, Cal Lee, have really taken some pressure off of me these past couple of weeks working with the defense. Rich Miano, George Lumpkin are outstanding coaches. Dave Aranda and Ikaika Malloe, I couldn't be happier with the two guys working with the defensive line.
Q: Is George the linebackers coach now?
A: Cal is the linebackers coach. I'll call the plays on defense. I'm going to game-plan with the whole staff like I did before. We're not going to change anything. Obviously, I want to be more involved in game management. During that time, Cal will work with the defense, but I'm going to still call the defenses. In the spring, George will work with the corners. In the fall, he'll work with the linebackers, so that when I work with the offense Cal can oversee the defense. George has a lot of experience and brings a lot of versatility.
Q: There were some outstanding leaders on last year's team who are no longer here. Who are some of the players you see emerging in that area?
A: I think Keala, David Veikune, Adam Leonard, Solomon (Elimimian), Keao (Monteilh) and (Ryan) Mouton in the secondary. Offensively, (Keith) AhSoon, John (Estes).
Certain guys follow certain guys, so they can all lead in their own way. We have a great bunch of guys and obviously most of them were part of what we did last year. We lost Colt Brennan and Michael Lafaele, two great leaders. But I think we have more leaders on this team. The majority of the guys on this team are leaders. I saw that in the Super Games. There's a lot of leadership, and it's not separated by offense and defense.
Q: How happy were you that Adam and Solomon decided to come back and not opt for the NFL?
A: I know Adam considered it. He had a great year last year, and so did Solly. But I think them coming back is going to be great for Hawaii and for them. They're outstanding players and I think our linebackers are the best in the country. I know that puts them in a situation, challenging them, actually our whole front seven. But if someone out there wants to use it for, what, what do you call that? Bulletin board material? Then bring it on. Because I think our guys are as good as anyone.
Q: You had some good pregame and halftime motivational stuff last year. Now as head coach what do you have in your bag of tricks?
A: That just comes naturally at the time. But what we have done is planned ahead strategically for the first three games.
In tomorrow's second installment, McMackin talks about how he relates to players, and life for the UH offense after Colt Brennan and June Jones.