STAR-BULLETIN / NOVEMBER 2007
Colt Brennan led UH to an undefeated regular season and a Sugar Bowl bid, but Brennan moved on to the NFL, one of many major changes during the 2007-08 athletic year.
Excitement, controversy characterized UH sports year
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Of the adjectives that might describe the University of Hawaii's 2007-08 athletic year, "boring" won't be among them.
There were few dull moments around the Manoa campus in a sporting year in which spectacular achievements by UH teams shared the spotlight with a steady stream of controversy.
"May you live in interesting times," UH athletic director Jim Donovan said, borrowing the old Chinese saying. "That certainly was the case this year."
The Warrior football team's undefeated regular season and Bowl Championship Series berth and a national championship for diver Emma Friesen were among the highlights in a year also remembered for the stunning departures of football coach June Jones and athletic director Herman Frazier.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Quarterback Colt Brennan and head coach June Jones took the Warriors all the way to the WAC Championship and a Sugar Bowl appearance against Georgia before leaving Hawaii. Brennan graduated, while Jones opted to leave the islands for Texas, where he became the new coach for SMU.
They were 296 days of magic and mayhem.
The University of Hawaii's 2007-08 athletic year began with Rainbow Wahine volleyball player Juliana Sanders hammering a kill on an August night in Manoa. It ended with track-and-field standout Annett Wichmann striding across a finish line in Iowa a week ago yesterday.
In between, the UH athletic department celebrated five league titles, four coach of the year awards, 26 first-team all-Western Athletic Conference selections, and a national championship, all while dealing with myriad off-field controversies, including upheaval at its two most prominent positions.
"It was a very remarkable year in both success and change," said new athletic director Jim Donovan, himself a key figure in the dizzying developments that marked the sporting year.
As UH's flagship program, the Warrior football team exemplified the year's split personalities.
Led by Heisman Trophy finalist Colt Brennan, the Warriors electrified the state from September to December with a 12-0 regular season, winning their first outright WAC championship and crashing the Bowl Championship Series with a spot in the Sugar Bowl.
Then came January.
Less than a week following a New Year's Day beating courtesy of the Georgia Bulldogs, head coach June Jones was on his way to Dallas to take over at SMU and athletic director Herman Frazier was dismissed in the aftermath.
Enter Greg McMackin and Jim Donovan.
McMackin, previously the Warriors defensive coordinator, was hired to succeed Jones as head football coach and stabilize a program shaken at its foundation.
"I feel blessed to be in the position I'm in," McMackin said. "I'm not intimidated by it. I've been practicing for it my entire career. I'm really looking forward to it. I'm surrounded by great people and surrounded by great support."
It would be two more months before Donovan was approved as the new athletic director, inheriting a hefty financial deficit while moving into a new office.
The $2.3 million payout from the Sugar Bowl (after expenses) figures to help balance the books for this year and the department negotiated an enhanced television package starting next season. But the financial challenges will likely linger a while more.
"It took a few years to get into this situation and I don't think we'll get out of it overnight," Donovan said.
"We pretty much know where we are and we know where we want to go and we're starting the process of charting how to get there."
UH's aging facilities remained at the forefront and the state legislature appropriated $7 million for projects including the replacement of Cooke Field's playing surface, improvements to the locker room at Duke Kahanamoku Aquatics Complex and refurbishment of coaches offices.
UH also received a $5 million donation from the Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation to go toward construction of an athletic complex on the Cooke Field site.
"The Ching Foundation (donation) was just a great step to show that people are really backing us," McMackin said of the largest single gift to the athletic department in its history.
As the din of just completed year starts to fade, the countdown to 2008-09 stands at 67 days until the Rainbow Wahine soccer team hosts Long Beach State at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium.
What lies beyond that, who knows.
"As good as 2007-08 was, the potential for even greater success and memories is there," Donovan said. "That's what gets me really excited."
» The anticipation for a highly-hyped season accelerates with the start of fall camp for the Warrior football team - sporting the program's first preseason ranking - on Aug. 3. Thankfully, quarterback Colt Brennan's dreadlocked 'do doesn't make it out of camp.
» Former UH receiver Ian Sample creates a stir by posting deleted chapters of his soon-to-be-released book "Once a Warrior" on his MySpace page. The passages include stories of sex, drinking and allegations of academic cheating.
» The 2007-08 athletic year officially begins on Aug. 24 with the women's volleyball team suffering a five-game loss to Michigan in the ASICS Rainbow Wahine Invitational.
» A criticized football schedule opens Sept. 1 with the Warriors throttling Northern Colorado 63-6. Their BCS hopes barely survive the first of several scares the next week when a Dan Kelly field goal and Gerard Lewis' game-saving pass deflection send UH to a 45-44 win at Louisiana Tech. Blowouts over UNLV, Charleston Southern and Idaho follow.
» The Warriors slosh their way to a dramatic comeback win at San Jose State on Oct. 12. They overcome a 14-point deficit in the final 4 minutes of regulation before winning 42-35 in overtime.
» The Wahine volleyball team rolls to a 7-1 October, the only loss coming in a mid-conference road trip to top-ranked Nebraska.
» Nothing comes easy for the football team as the WAC title and BCS berth come into view. Concussions become the hot topic around town after a hard hit against Fresno State leaves Brennan woozy. Tyler Graunke guides the Warriors to a 28-26 win at Nevada, with Kelly hitting another game-winning kick. With Brennan back at the helm, a sellout crowd witnesses one of the biggest sporting events in the state's history as UH claims its first outright WAC title by beating Boise State 39-27.
» After more than two decades as an assistant, Bob Nash makes his debut as head basketball coach Nov. 9. In what would become a recurring theme in an 11-19 season, the Rainbow Warriors rally from an early deficit but lose to San Diego 73-72.
» The Wahine soccer team clinches the WAC regular-season championship by beating Idaho 7-0 on Nov. 4 then tops Fresno State 1-0 to capture the program's first conference tournament title and NCAA tournament berth. A week later, the Wahine end the season at 15-5-2 after a 2-0 loss to Colorado in the first round.
» Despite a spirited battle from host New Mexico State, the Wahine keep the WAC volleyball crown in Hawaii with a five-set win in the tournament final Nov. 17. Jamie Houston is named WAC Player of the Year and is later named to the AVCA All-Region team.
» The Warriors complete their perfect regular season with a 35-28 win over Washington. The win isn't secure until Ryan Mouton intercepts a pass in the end zone in the final seconds. UH's berth in the Sugar Bowl is announced the following day at a rally at the Stan Sheriff Center.
» The volleyball team's road ends in Louisville, Ky., with a four-game loss to Middle Tennessee State in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
» Brennan becomes the first UH player invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York and finishes third in the voting behind Tim Tebow and Darren McFadden.
» Foreshadowing the turbulence ahead, fans scramble for Sugar Bowl tickets after UH settles for a reduced allotment.
» The basketball team goes 0-3 in the Rainbow Classic for the first time since 1995 and suffers a bigger blow on Christmas Day when starting center Stephen Verwers is lost for the season with a broken leg.
» As exhilarating as November and December were, January would be chaotic. The new year starts with a 41-10 Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia in the Superdome as Brennan is sacked eight times and throws three interceptions.
» After days of anxious speculation and appeals from UH administrators, business leaders and Gov. Lingle, June Jones is introduced as head coach at SMU on Jan. 7. The fallout is swift as Herman Frazier accepts a $312,510 buyout to leave the school two days later. Carl Clapp is named interim athletic director.
» Prolific receivers Davone Bess and Ryan Grice-Mullins add to the exodus by announcing their intentions to leave school and enter the NFL Draft.
» Rather than join Jones in Dallas, Greg McMackin stems the flow of departures by signing on as head football coach for a record $1.1 million per year. He spends the next few weeks assembling a coaching staff and his first recruiting class.
» The Rainbow basketball team rallies from a 14-point deficit in the second half to stun Utah State 71-66 at the Sheriff Center. It would be the Rainbows' biggest - and last - win of the season.
» McMackin unveils a recruiting class of 22 incoming junior college and high school players. The staff targets quarterbacks, receivers and defensive backs.
» The search for a new athletic director ends when the Board of Regents approves the nomination of former associate AD Jim Donovan on March 13. Donovan reports for his first day of work 11 days later, taking over a department facing a financial deficit of at least $4.5 million with more losses forecast next year.
» The seasons end for the men's and women's basketball teams in the quarterfinals of the WAC tournament in Las Cruces, NM. The Wahine lose to host New Mexico State 55-40 and the men fall to eventual tournament champ Boise State 80-74.
» Emma Friesen wins the school's lone national title of the year, claiming the 1-meter springboard title at the NCAA Championships in Columbus, Ohio, on March 20. She becomes the second UH diver to win a national crown.
» Senior Magnus Frick finishes second in the 1-meter diving final and sixth in the 3-meter at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in Washington.
» The baseball team opens the month by ending a six-game skid with a 4-2 win over eventual College World Series participant Stanford at Sunken Diamond. The Rainbows go 12-5 in April to turn the season around on their way to a second-place finish in the WAC standings.
» The men's tennis team wins its first WAC championship with a 4-2 victory over Fresno State, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. John Nelson is named WAC coach of the year and Dennis Lajola is named to the All-WAC first team.
» The Wahine water polo team ends its season at 20-10 with losses to top-seeded UCLA and Stanford at the MPSF championships in San Diego.
» The Warrior volleyball team upsets No. 5 Pepperdine in five games to close an 11-16 campaign.
» Brennan is the only player drafted by the NFL from the 12-1 Warriors, in the sixth round by the Washington Redskins. Meanwhile, McMackin holds UH's first spring football game in 10 years, with offensive coordinator Ron Lee's squad narrowly holding off that of his brother and defensive coordinator, Cal Lee. Inoke Funaki plays well and Tyler Graunke gets back in good graces after an offseason suspension; who will take over for Brennan at quarterback in the fall remains a huge question.
» Quite a May for the softball program. Kaulana Gould gets engaged on Senior Day when her boyfriend pops the question on statewide TV, Kate Robinson breaks the UH home run record and the Rainbow Wahine receive a surprising berth in the NCAA tournament. UH runs into eventual national champion Arizona State in the Tempe regional, losing twice to the Sun Devils to close the season.
» The baseball team wins its first two games at the WAC tournament in Ruston, La., and leads Fresno State in the sixth inning with a spot in the championship round at stake. Fresno State rallies for an 11-4 win and UH's season ends with a 12-7 loss to Nevada later that day.
» Four Rainbows - Matt Daly, Jon Hee, Brandon Haislet and Landon Hernandez - are selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
» The Sugar Bowl continues to make news as the state ethics commission opens an inquiry into the UH travel party. In question is whether people not serving a function for the state made the trip to New Orleans at UH's expense.
» Three UH athletes earn All-America honors as UH posts its highest finish ever at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships June 12-13 in Iowa. Amber Kaufman and Emily Sheppard place fifth and sixth in the high jump and Annett Wichmann finishes sixth in the heptathlon to close the athletic year.