Hula Bowl tackles 'all-star wrestling'
The Senior Bowl is its main competition for college starsBy Paul Arnett
WAILEA, Maui - Grant Teaff sat on the metal bleachers at the Maui High School practice field. But Teaff wasn't paying attention to the players preparing for Sunday's Hooters Hula Bowl.
Instead, the former Baylor head coach and current executive director of the American Football Coaches Association gazed at the magnificent West Maui mountain range that dominates part of the horizon of the beautiful valley island.
"To all of us who live away, this is Hawaii to us,'' Teaff said. "This is what we think about and dream about. That's why I'm very excited about the Hula Bowl being here in Maui. It's such a wonderful feeling being here in a place where folks have really bent over backwards for us.
"We have 76 ranked players out of 90 playing in this game, which I think is extraordinary. We have a unique situation in that this bowl is designed for the players and the coaches as an award for a job well done. We do everything pristine.
"We do everything through the coaches and that's the way we're going to do it. The process for our selection is supported 1,000 percent by the coaches and the AFCA. I think we're on the verge of coming to some kind of an agreement that will allow the youngsters to choose which college all-star game they want to be in and then not be harassed to change their mind.''
The Hula Bowl's main competition for quality players is the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Earlier this year, the AFCA reached agreements with top running backs Rashaan Shehee of Washington, Skip Hicks of UCLA and Tavian Banks of Iowa.
Banks sprained his ankle in the Sun Bowl and couldn't attend. Shehee and Hicks dropped out without giving the Hula Bowl a reason. Hicks, who apparently agreed to play in all three major all-star games, opted for Saturday's Senior Bowl, which is run by the NFL.
"I don't know why the NFL would want to deal with players who break contracts," Teaff said. "When I was a coach, I recommended my players only be in one of these games. But when they made a selection, I made sure they stuck with it.
"The NFL has worked with the non-sanctioned Senior Bowl. And they have their coaches coach. They do technical things, fundamental things. A high percentage of the agents want their players to go to the Senior Bowl. We also feel there are people in the NFL who support that.
"But we're not going to worry about that because we believe if we keep doing things the way we're doing them, we're going to have more and more players committing to our game. F.A. Dry (who heads the selection committee) had 48 agents call yesterday who wanted to get their players in this game.
"I'm not going to worry about the guys who didn't come. I want to concentrate my energies toward the players who are here. And we have some good ones, including the best group of quarterbacks of any of the college all-star games."
At quarterback, the South is led by North Carolina's Chris Keldorf, Georgia's Mike Bobo and Nebraska's Scott Frost. The North counters with Notre Dame's Ron Powlus and Michigan's Brian Griese. Frost and Griese will start, something Teaff feels will draw viewers to the game.
"You've got Brian, who is the MVP of the Rose Bowl," Teaff said. "You've got Scott Frost, who has been MVP in every game he's ever played in. And you've got them on opposite sides.
"There are a lot of people in the United States who are saying, 'Well, you know they didn't get to play against each other in the national championship game, but Scott and Brian are finally going to get to go head-to-head, so let's tune in and see what happens.'
"It could be one of the most watched college all-star games in history just because of that. I'm very pleased with it. I think the fact that both players are here proves we've got this game moving in the right direction."
Teaff said he believes the quality of players will continue to improve the longer the AFCA stays involved in the selection process. Getting the NCAA to sanction the event, having high-caliber coaches, and the recent meetings with the NFL - to peacefully coexist with the Senior Bowl - have the Hula Bowl on the verge of returning to its glory days.
"When I used to recruit, my philosophy was very simple," Teaff said. "I wanted the guys who wanted to play for me. All the kids out here want to be here. They're quality kids who will represent this game well.
"I've never been happier with the state of things in the AFCA and with this game. We wondered when we brought the game here whether the people of Maui would do the necessary things to help support this game. They've done everything we asked to prove they want a lasting relationship."
Hula Bowl Notebook
Tatupu fills in for Robinson
WAILEA, Maui - Mosi Tatupu was honored to have an award named after him in connection with Sunday's Hooters Hula Bowl at War Memorial Stadium. But coaching in the 52nd annual college all-star game? Well, that's a different matter.
''I'm a little nervous coaching these players, to tell you the truth,'' Tatupu said yesterday after the first major practice for the South team. ''I'm handling the defensive line, which is tough, because I used to hate those guys when I was a fullback.''
The former Hawaii resident, who played college football at Southern Cal and professionally for the New England Patriots, is stepping in for the legendary Eddie Robinson. The former head coach for Grambling State couldn't attend the game because of an illness.
''Filling in for Coach Robinson is an honor,'' Tatupu said. ''And what makes it even more special is I get a chance to spend a lot of time on Maui, something I wasn't able to do when I lived here.''
Missouri's Brock Olivo won the inaugural Mosi Tatupu Trophy. Olivo will receive the award, which honors the nation's best special teams player, at halftime of the nationally televised Hula Bowl.
''The players are going to stand on the field with him when he receives the award,'' Hula Bowl chief executive officer Lenny Klompus said. ''So it's going to be a special kind of event for our bowl.''
BACK IN HAWAII: Former University of Hawaii recruiting coordinator Jim Cochran is here for this week's Hula Bowl, representing 11 teams in the National Football League scouting combine.
Cochran - and the rest of former UH head coach Bob Wagner's staff - was fired at the end of the 1995 season. Cochran lives in Albuquerque, N.M., and is a key in helping set up junior and senior college football players for next month's NFL combine in Indianapolis.
''We're here to help coordinate the players that have been invited to the combine and those who may receive an invitation based on this week's practice and game,'' Cochran said during yesterday's two practices at Maui High School. ''I had a friend help get me in this business. It's something I enjoy doing.''
Cochran and his family moved to New Mexico after Cochran landed a job with former Lobos head coach Dennis Franchione. He said yesterday that his wife and children enjoy New Mexico, but didn't want to leave the island chain.
''We were very happy here,'' Cochran said. ''I'm disappointed we weren't given the opportunity to help get this program turned around. I read (on the Star-Bulletin's on-line) Fred vonAppen's comments concerning Bob's firing. And I agreed with what he said. I don't know what UH officials expected he and his staff to do. Fred's a fine coach, but he's not a miracle worker. Just changing the coach doesn't mean you're going to turn around a program. It takes a lot more than that.
''If I remember correctly, (UH athletic director) Hugh Yoshida said the reason Bob was fired was because of dwindling attendance. The last time I checked, the attendance was even worse than it was two years ago. So what does that tell you?''
Cochran keeps up with those on Wagner's old staff. He said everyone was back in the business, except he and Wagner.
''All of the coaches are doing well,'' Cochran said. ''You can find them coaching from Oregon State to Navy. And from the University of Nevada to Georgia Southern. I know they wished it had worked out here. And I believe it could have, had the administration listened to and supported Bob more.''
ABERCROMBIE HAS FOND MEMORIES: In 1982, Walter Abercrombie was a little-known running back from Baylor who served as a backup to USC's Marcus Allen in the Hula Bowl.
Abercrombie went on to be named MVP of that 36th Hula Bowl, something he believes helped get him drafted by Pittsburgh.
''This game had a lot to do with getting me drafted,'' said Abercrombie, who is in town to help the South's coaching staff. ''You think back and realize that Marcus played in that game, and is still in the NFL.
''It's absolutely unbelievable that he can still be playing running back at his age. He's something special. And this was a special experience for me. Somebody on this team is going to make a name for himself, just like I did all those years ago.''