DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii offensive coordinator Ron Lee, left, and his brother, defensive coordinator Cal Lee, have had their careers cross on many occasions, but have never been on opposite sidelines.
Brother vs. brother
Offensive coordinator Ron and defensive coordinator Cal Lee welcome the opportunity to match strategies in the revived UH spring game
For one evening, their roles will be competitive rather than complementary.
Hawaii's spring game will put the Warriors' new coordinators -- who played side-by-side for a season in college and later combined to build championship prep programs locally -- in the unfamiliar position of taking station on opposite sidelines at Aloha Stadium.
Not that either Cal or Ron Lee have had much time to think ahead to April 26.
"That game is 15 practices away, we've got a lot of work to do," Ron Lee said. "But I think that'll be a fun situation."
Both have certainly had enough to fill their days since being elevated to UH's coordinator positions by first-year head coach Greg McMackin.
With spring practice opening tomorrow, there haven't been many free moments to soak in the significance of their mutual ascent with Ron taking over a prolific UH offense and Cal helping organize the Warrior defense.
"I don't know if any brothers have been offensive and defensive coordinators (on the same Division I team), but I can't think of two better brothers to do it," McMackin said.
"They've both got great experience, they're great people, they've got a great family and they're both winners. I've got the utmost confidence in them. ... I'm excited for them and excited for us that we have two guys such as the Lee brothers to be in such important positions."
Their career paths diverged at various points over the years only to draw them back together at Kaiser, Saint Louis and now UH, establishing themselves among the most recognizable figures in local football along the way.
With McMackin, previously defensive coordinator under June Jones, assuming a broadened leadership role, he'll lean on Cal Lee to handle much of the day-to-day duties with the defense.
Ron Lee takes play-calling duties and oversees a sizable rebuilding project.
"That's what I enjoy, helping these guys get ready to step up, to run on the field in Gainesville (for the season opener at Florida)," Ron Lee said. "This season is a huge challenge for the coaches. We're all new coaches, we've got all new players, and that's the challenge, that's the excitement."
The brothers embrace the challenges of the game, and it always provides a focal point for conversation at family functions.
"You can't go around too much without talking about football because you're around it constantly," said Cal Lee as he approaches his sixth season at UH. "So I don't think we talk about too many things other than football. It's ever-changing."
Strolling the UH athletic department, both carry an easy-going demeanor but, "they're both pretty intense when they have to be," said older brother Tommy, who recently retired from Montana Western following a successful coaching tenure of his own.
"They might give you a low-key type personality, but when they have to turn it up a notch, they will."
Football has long been a central theme for Thomas and Hazel Lee's three sons.
Tommy excelled as a quarterback at Saint Louis. Ron (Saint Louis) and Cal (Kalani) were rooted in defense. Reunited in college, they plugged the middle of the Willamette defense as the linebackers in the Bearcats' 5-2 alignment in the late 1960s.
All three transitioned to coaching, and out of necessity Ron made a career-defining decision to turn his focus to offense upon taking over a fledgling Kaiser program in 1973.
In an era played primarily between the tackles, Ron countered his team's lack of bulk by spreading four receivers across the field.
"In those days if you got 2 yards that was big, and we couldn't get 2 yards," said Cal, who ran the Cougars defense in those years. "He was smart enough to decide that he had to make a change. As a head coach he wasn't just going to bang it in there."
It was Tommy, then a high school coach in Oregon, who directed Ron to a rival coach named Mouse Davis. Davis was implementing a similar system at Portland State. Ron has been studying the run-and-shoot ever since.
"We've run this formation forever, so I think we have a pretty good understanding of how teams have to defend the four wideouts," Ron said. "Ask me about a tight end and two backs, I don't know much about that."
The passing attack wasn't exactly a hit at first, but the Cougars developed into a Prep Bowl champion in 1979 with the help of a former member of the swimming team the coaches convinced to give football a try.
"You could just tell they had something about them," Rich Miano recalled. "Cal was a hard-nosed, old-school type of guy and Ron was an innovator type of guy on offense. The brothers just fit perfectly together."
Miano went on to productive careers at UH and in the NFL and has coached the Warrior defensive backs for the last nine years, working alongside Cal for the last five.
"You can bring in all these new techniques, but (Cal) knows it still goes back to old school, it still comes down to tackling and blocking and toughness and desire," Miano said. "It's very simple and it's all about just being more physical than the opponent."
At Saint Louis, Cal Lee was the head coach, with Ron coordinating the offense. They built the Crusaders into a prep dynasty, winning 15 Prep Bowl and HHSAA state titles.
Although Saint Louis' success seemed to be self-sustaining, it wasn't without a little extra effort from the coaches.
"When the recruiters came from all the different colleges, they were always picking their brains on certain techniques, certain schemes and every year they went to clinics all over the country," said current Saint Louis coach Delbert Tengan, a 14-year assistant under Cal Lee. "They were always looking to stay one step ahead of everyone else."
While the game has evolved over the years, some things remain constant, most significantly the role of family in their travels. All three brothers were on the staff when Saint Louis began its run of Prep Bowl titles in the 1980s and their parents remain regular figures in the stands -- home and away.
"They're our greatest fans," Ron said. "When we were 8, 9 years old, their whole lives were getting us to the games and potlucks. ... Family functions were always built around football and it's still the same today. We're pretty blessed."