June Jones, who led University of Hawaii football from national laughing stock to unprecedented heights, is gone.
The nine-year Hawaii football coach this morning told the Star-Bulletin he would accept an offer to take over the reins of the Southern Methodist Mustangs. A news conference was to be held today at SMU.
Jones will sign a 5-year, $10 million contract with the Dallas private school, said Jones’ agent Leigh Steinberg.
“It’s too good an opportunity for me and my family to turn down,” Jones said in a phone interview from Dallas today. “It’s hard, but I know it’s the right thing for me to do.”
At least three assistant coaches, including defensive coordinator Greg McMackin, will join Jones at SMU. The others are quarterbacks coach Dan Morrison and running backs coach Wes Suan.
UH officials met this morning to discuss a transition strategy. No interim coach was named. When Jones could not coach in spring 2001 due to a car accident, associate head coach George Lumpkin was interim coach.
Possible permanent replacements include Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow, Texas assistant coach Duane Akina, former UH head coach Dick Tomey (now at San Jose State), New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and current UH assistants Cal Lee and Jeff Reinebold.
Jones leaves the Warriors despite a last-ditch effort to keep him in the islands, including a call yesterday by Gov. Linda Lingle to Steinberg.
“Frankly, I think that (Jones’) lean and intention was to go ahead and take the new post,” Steinberg said late last night. “I think it was headed in that direction. I think all of the communications (from Hawaii) in the last couple of days has made an impact and caused pause.”
And it was not just sentiment — Steinberg, who is in Dallas with Jones, said a third proposal in the last four days came from UH to try to keep his client at Manoa. This one addressed facilities and other infrastructure questions that caused the nine-year Warriors coach to look elsewhere in the first place.
“I knew everyone in the position to do so would try to make these things happen,” Jones said. “But they still have to happen for the next coach. I think everyone is at a focal point of what is needed.”
Jones said he was “blown away” by SMU when he interviewed with athletic department and school officials and viewed the facilities. They include Gerald J. Ford Stadium, a 30,000-seat on-campus arena where the Warriors played in 2001.
After the Warriors played there, Jones tried to get a similar stadium built at UH.
“When I got back to Hawaii I talked to (then Mayor) Jeremy Harris about trying to build that stadium here,” Jones said.
The latest salary offer from UH yesterday was $1.5 million, nearly twice Jones’ current annual pay.
Steinberg said Hawaii’s final proposal included improvements to the football offices and the practice field.
Late yesterday, Steinberg said Jones was “still deciding” between SMU and UH.
“My own take on this is that I urged June to go to Hawaii from San Diego (in 1999, when Jones left the NFL to take the UH job),” Steinberg said. “I’m not about maximizing compensation; I’m about making (Jones) happy.”
Jones is the winningest coach in UH football history, with a career mark of 76-41. His teams are 4-2 in bowl games. Hawaii has had seven winning seasons under Jones, including two Western Athletic Conference championships.
In 1999, Jones’ first season, Hawaii went 9-4, including a victory over Oregon State in the Oahu Bowl. It represented the biggest turnaround in college football history after the 0-12 season, and Hawaii snapped a 19-game losing streak.
Hawaii is ranked a school-record 10th in the major polls, although the Warriors’ final rating will drop after the team’s 41-10 loss to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl last Tuesday.
The appearance in a storied postseason affair at the Louisiana Superdome was one of Jones’ crowning achievements, as the 12-0 Warriors became the third team from a non-BCS conference to play in a BCS bowl game. It also netted UH a payout expected to be more than $2 million after expenses.
But the lopsided loss also exposed UH as a program not ready to compete with perennial powerhouse teams with vast resources.
The development of quarterback Colt Brennan was another milestone of Jones achievement. Under the tutelage of Jones and Morrison, Brennan broke numerous NCAA records and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting last season.
Like Jones, Brennan was outspoken about shortcomings at UH, including poor facilities. The lack of improved facilities is one of the biggest reasons Jones said he left Hawaii. Another complaint of Jones has been government red tape preventing expedient resolution of issues important to the football program.
Jones nearly died in a one-car crash in 2001, but came back to coach UH to a 9-3 record that year, including a 72-45 win over Brigham Young to close the season. The Warriors were not invited to a bowl game, spawning the Hawaii Bowl, which UH played in four of the next six years.
Jones, who has two adult daughters and a teenage son, said he plans to retire in Hawaii in a few years.
“Most definitely,” he said today. “Hawaii will always be my home. My heart is still torn about it, torn in half. I broke down so many times the last three days.”