DALLAS--Fred vonAppen came in from the cold wearing perhaps his last genuine smile.
this season will be different
In the months ahead, the new head coach for the University of Hawaii football team would find little to laugh about, but on this New Year's Day in 1996, the only dark clouds on the horizon were the wintry ones mingling with the bright lights of the Cotton Bowl.
VonAppen had just completed his 30-something season as an assistant coach with a victory. He marked the end of that seemingly endless journey by kissing his wife, Thea.
All around them in the steamy University of Colorado locker room were the sights and sounds of a team that had just pounded Oregon into submission. It was one of those Kodak moments coaches long to capture and put away on a shelf.
Had vonAppen any clue what awaited him back in paradise, he might have asked Colorado head coach Rick Neuheisel if he could have his job back, instead of accepting congratulations from his youthful counterpart for finally realizing a lifelong dream.
"We've got a lot of work to do," vonAppen told Neuheisel that day. "Thanks for the opportunity of allowing me to coach in Colorado. It was a great experience."
WHEN vonAppen returns to Dallas next week for the Western Athletic Conference media meetings, he would do well to remember that experience and draw something positive from it. Granted, things haven't gone as planned during his stay in Hawaii.
Over the last 19 months, not only has vonAppen had to hire nearly a dozen coaches and recruit 60 players to a still-changing set of offensive and defensive philosophies, but he also has spent an inordinate amount of time trying to convince athletic director Hugh Yoshida that the program needs to join the 20th century before it becomes the 21st.
It's not exactly what vonAppen had in mind. But neither was the 2-10 campaign a year ago, with the Rainbows losing their final four games by an astounding combined score of 176-48.
VonAppen believes that things will be different in 1997, but it's hard to imagine the Rainbows suddenly becoming a winning team. For one, vonAppen's staff is relying heavily on the incoming recruiting class. The talent may be there, but the Division I experience won't, and that could pose some problems in the first half of the season.
THE incoming junior college and freshmen recruits are also unfamiliar with the new systems designed by coordinators Wally English and Don Lindsey. Part of their challenge will be to keep up the spirits of the young guys during this trying transition.
"This fall camp will be a proving ground," vonAppen said. "We've been told we need to improve and quickly. The problem is, there is never enough time to get done what needs to be done, especially with a young team."
The powers-that-be compounded vonAppen's problems by not having the foresight this summer to roll over the second-year head coach's contract. Now more than ever the Rainbows needed some semblance of sanity and stability.
Instead of backing vonAppen and realizing his cries for help were legitimate, the UH administrators created more chaos by blaming vonAppen for pointing out problems that existed long before he arrived.
Former head coach Bob Wagner warned that the program was sliding toward the abyss months after the Rainbows secured their last winning season in 1992. No one listened then, and everyone is paying for it now.
It's unlikely vonAppen will have to deal with any of these topics next week in Dallas. A team rated No. 91 nationally isn't high on anyone's interview list. But if Hawaii is ever to receive any positive publicity under vonAppen's watch, UH administrators need to realize his 30-odd years of experience should count for something.
Paul Arnett has been covering sports
for the Star-Bulletin since 1990.
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