Warriors, McMackin should treat this one as a dress rehearsal
OCALA, Fla. » The Hawaii Warriors arrived quietly yesterday at this town 70 miles north of Orlando known for producing champion racehorses and the occasional celebrity sighting.
Barbaro was born here. John Travolta owns a house in the neighborhood.
But the real stars are 30 miles up I-75 in Gainesville - the Florida Gators. As is often the case, they and their fans spent August anticipating contending for a national football championship. And, as always, nothing less than an SEC title will do.
Coach Urban Meyer returns Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow at quarterback, surrounded by perhaps the most team speed in the country.
It's a tall order for any coach's first game as a Division I head coach. Add that Greg McMackin had to bring his boys across half an ocean and an entire continent without a proven quarterback as just one of many questions on offense, and the 341/2-point spread seems too small to some.
Every now and then, one of us Super Chickens reminds McMackin. "You knew the job was dangerous when you took it."
June Jones knew it, too, when he became UH head coach headed into 1999. People often forget the magic began with a 62-7 loss to USC that would've been embarrassing except it was the 19th in a row for Hawaii. Carson Palmer was the Trojans' quarterback, but it might as well have been Carson Daly.
Jones and his team survived, and turned things around starting the next week against Eastern Illinois. At the end of the season, Hawaii was beating Oregon State in a bowl game and finishing 9-4. It was led by a big, hard-nosed, hard-throwing kid learning the run-and-shoot on the job.
Greg Alexander possesses some similar attributes to Dan Robinson and finds himself in a somewhat similar situation. Alexander's mobility has vastly improved over the past few weeks. But to survive tomorrow, he'll need to read what the defense gives him, and he must do it quickly. Windows of opportunity will close as fast as they open with Florida's defensive speed, regardless of the inexperience of some of its safeties.
In 1996, Fred vonAppen debuted as UH coach with an exciting 24-21 loss to Boston College. I'm not sure what can be taken from that to apply to the present, other than if tomorrow's score is that close questions will arise over whether members of the winning team tried very hard - as they did later regarding BC.
Don't know if Bob Wagner's 44-0 opener on the positive side against Cal State-Fullerton in 1987 provides any lessons for now, either. About all the Titans and Gators have in common is they wear helmets - actually, that's not even true anymore, since Fullerton axed its program.
Dick Tomey's first Rainbows team lost to New Mexico 35-26 to start 1977, and Larry Price's inaugural edition beat BYU 15-13 in 1974. I'm thinking Tomey's strategy of doing things with the intent of keeping his team in the game for as long as possible will be part of McMackin's philosophy - at least for this game. And five Dan Kelly field goals won't be enough to put the Warriors anywhere near the Gators when it's over around 10 a.m. Hawaii time.
If the experts are right, it will be better for the Warriors to view tomorrow's outcome as a dress rehearsal rather than their new coach's opening night.
Coaches, players and most fans hate the idea of moral victories. But coming out of The Swamp without major injuries and with the $300,000 profit would be a good start to what could be a fine first season for McMackin and a team with plenty of potential.