Spring ‘crucial’ for Warriors
McMackin puts faith in UH’s revamped coaching staff
June Jones and four of his assistants aren't the only coaches who moved on from Hawaii after last season.
According to the new offensive coordinator, Ron Lee, the starting receivers weren't just great players, they were instructors. The experience and teaching ability of Davone Bess, Ryan Grice-Mullins and Jason Rivers will be missed as the Warriors school a new wave of pass catchers beginning today at the first day of spring practice.
"Spring is crucial," said Lee, who also remains the receivers coach, with help from former Warrior slotback Craig Stutzmann, now a graduate assistant. "In the past four or five years with June, the philosophy during the spring was, 'get the backups ready.' It's different this year. We lost everybody, we're looking for some players.
"Last year (the starting receivers) were coaches. Now, it's different. Absolutely no such luxury. You lose the caliber that we've lost, I mean, those five (the four receivers and quarterback Colt Brennan) will probably play in the NFL. You don't see that very often. Michael Washington, Aaron Bain, John Medeiros, Greg Salas, Malcolm Lane -- they have tremendous shoes to fill."
So does the quarterback replacing Brennan, who was third in the Heisman Trophy voting last year. Junior Inoke Funaki enters camp ahead of Tyler Graunke, Brennan's primary backup since 2005 (a recent suspension knocked Graunke from the top spot).
"It's definitely a new experience for me coming in as number one," said Funaki, the third-stringer the past two seasons. "I just want to let (everybody) know that I can lead them. Especially at the quarterback position. It's the position that the rest of the offense and team look to as leader, whether they are trying to be a leader or not."
Although Graunke has four years' experience with the run-and-shoot, including extensive game action, he has some learning to do since Lee and head coach Greg McMackin will run the offense differently than did Jones.
"I don't really have a good feel for it yet, but I've been running Coach Jones' offense and I've seen people put their own twists on this offense throughout my whole career and it's going to be interesting to see what Coach Lee wants to do with it," Graunke said.
Brian McInnis of the Star-Bulletin contributed to this report.
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 second of two parts, McMackin talks about rebuilding an offense that lost a record-breaking quarterback and three receivers who accounted for seven 1,000-yard seasons.
Q: What's the key to getting the offense going after losing so many starters?
A: We're definitely in a rebuilding mode on offense. Number one, I believe in (offensive coordinator) Ron Lee. He's going to call the plays here. When we were together before (at Oregon Tech), I actually called the plays on offense. I believe in him so much I want him to have that opportunity. There's three guys in the country, the world, who know the run-and-shoot best. Mouse Davis, June Jones and Ron Lee.
Q: What will your role be with the offense?
A: I'm going to let the coaches coach, but I'm not going to just stand around. Things that I see, I'll point them out. I'm going to coach the same way I have on defense.
Q: There's no way to sugarcoat it. The offensive line had a bad game against Georgia in the bowl game. Will that unit bounce back right away?
A: I think our offensive line is going to be a strength for us with three starters back, including (center) John Estes. We're going to try to get 10 or 11 guys ready to play at Florida. I think we have the depth there and I really believe in our offensive line coaches.
Q: Who are some of the players on offense you think will surprise the fans?
A: A guy who's really been working hard this offseason is (quarterback) Inoke Funaki. He's really improved himself. Another guy people are going to be impressed with is (receiver) Greg Salas. He's really taken himself to the next level. He's matured, and grown physically, picking up speed and strength.
Q: With the personnel you have coming back, does it dictate a change in offensive philosophy, perhaps more running?
A: We lost so many star players from last year that we're going to go back to basics. We're going to have a quarterback who's still in the gun, but will be under the center some of the time. We think that will help our running game. We'll be able to bootleg, we'll be able to play-action. We don't want to put all the pressure on the quarterback. We had a great quarterback the past couple of years.
What people are doing (on defense) is widening out the ends and just coming up field. So we want to be able to run the stretch play, misdirection. Not have everything be on the quarterback.
Quite honestly, we want to win early on defense. Everywhere I've ever been, it's been win early on defense. For the offense, we have spring, summer and our early games to get better. Offensively we feel we have some talent, and we'll have some complementary talent coming in with the recruits. I have the utmost confidence, but all offenses have to get their timing and learn to work together.
We're going to have a well-rounded offense. We're going to emphasize not giving up turnovers and getting turnovers. We're going to emphasize moving the chains, field position. That's really an important thing to us.
Q: Does declaring the quarterback race wide-open keep the guys on their toes?
A: I think so. The best thing about competition is it makes you better. That's one reason we got better on defense, because we played 20 players. I want to do the same thing on offense. We want to go into Florida with 10 or 11 offensive linemen, two deep at receiver. We'll settle on a quarterback by then. We have got to have good depth.
As far as the quarterback position, it will be very competitive. Tyler did some great things when he came in last year. Inoke's an incredible talent and a great leader. We're going to get a good evaluation on all the quarterbacks we have here in the spring, and in the early fall we'll evaluate the JC quarterbacks, give them some shots. It's going to be competition right down to a couple of weeks before our first game. We'll make a decision at a certain point, but I think the competition's going to make everybody better.
Q: The other side of that is developing a clear leader as soon as possible, yes?
A: As soon as a guy separates himself from the pack, we're ready to go. But I do want to look at those junior college players. I told the guys here that up front. We do have to make a choice a couple weeks before the game. Because that guy has to run the team, get the reps. We're not going to be a two-quarterback system.
Q: When your starting quarterback does emerge, how do you see your relationship with that player developing? Do you think it will be anything like the way June Jones related to Colt Brennan?
A: My goal is to have a good relationship with every player on the team. Whether a guy's a walk-on guy, a scholarship guy, first string, last string, offense, defense, it doesn't matter. I'm not going to become buddies with them. It's a business to me, but it's a business where you care about your players. We're going to have a good relationship with the quarterbacks. What I'm saying is, to me, it's having a good relationship with everybody. Not just the star players.
I want to meet with every player after spring practice one-to-one and talk with them about how they can get better, talk to them about their plusses and minuses.
Q: You've had extensive time in the NFL and college ranks. What's the biggest difference for you in coaching college players and pro players?
A: You can have so much more of an influence on your players in college. In the pros, you get to coach the best players in the world, but you don't have as much personal influence. They've got agents, they've got their accountants. So you're really looking at just the football. Over here, one of our goals is to graduate the players. So you can influence them in many ways. That's why I like college better than the pros.
Q: The spring game should be fun with the Lee brothers coaching against each other. Will they draft their teams?
A: We'll have them be the head coaches, let them have the pressure. I think I'll split up the other coaches so they each have some offense and some defense. Then we'll draft teams. I think I'm going to have the players do that. Maybe have a couple of captains on each side. Maybe have the coaching staff draft. I haven't made up my mind yet.
Q: On Easter, you took your first day off since becoming head coach. When do you get to take a real breather?
A: It's been a blast, really a lot of fun and I've gotten to meet a lot of people. The president of the university (David McClain) and the chancellor (Virginia Hinshaw) have been extremely helpful, and having Jim Donovan as the new athletic director, I think that's outstanding for us. He's going to be great to work with.
Things have been going pretty fast. So after spring recruiting I'll have a chance to get away a little bit.