Warriors keep running through O-line coaches


POSTED: Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mike Cavanaugh, Wes Suan, Mouse Davis, Dennis McKnight, Brian Smith.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, introducing Gordy Shaw.

Did I miss anybody?

Oh, yeah, Alex Gerke. He was here for about 5 minutes. Aloha ... and aloha.

These people have all coached the Hawaii offensive line in the past five years.

Counting Cavanaugh, the man for whom they committed to sweat, bleed and play, the fifth-year year seniors taking the field tomorrow on the first day of spring practice are on their seventh O-line coach. Cav's still relevant; I remember how upset Aaron Kia was when he learned the boloheaded drill sergeant was leaving UH before he even got there.

Cavanaugh mentored six Hawaii players drafted into the NFL. He left in 2005 for Oregon State, and things—which were very good under his watch—haven't been the same since.

Remember when the Warriors offensive linemen were the stars, on the field and off? The Phat Pack, kings of pass pro at Manoa and karaoke around the town?

They kept the quarterbacks on their feet, not staring up at the Halawa sky, and they did it with style.

It's not the fault of any one coach or even group of players that the Warriors set the NCAA record for sacks allowed last season. They're the result of missed connections between inexperienced quarterbacks and receivers as well as missed blocks.

Still, what we see now is the rubble left from the gradual decay of what was once a great and proud position group.

Of all the units in football, the offensive line requires the most cohesion. It takes a tough and experienced coach to ball those five fingers into a fist.

Some guys can impart knowledge but not motivate, others are the opposite. Cavanaugh? Plus on both.

Smith was one of Cav's pupils, as a player and a graduate assistant. He's a bright young coach with a great future ahead of him.

Last year just wasn't his time, and now his official title is running backs coach. Unofficially, it's also assistant offensive line coach. Smith isn't going to teach Leon Wright-Jackson how to juke linebackers as much as he'll be reinforcing the protection schemes ... to the running backs and the linemen.

If you go to the Warriors practices, you know that's what it is; the O-line and running backs coaches work together. Their relationship with each other is as important as how they deal with the players.

So, before you're too hard on Kia, John Estes and Raphael Ieru, think about what it would be like to have seven different guys telling you how to do your job over the course of five years. Or remember how things worked when Fred vonAppen employed different offensive coordinators all three years of his tenure as head coach.

When we met with Greg McMackin the other day, we danced around it a bit before bringing up the offensive line. Why ruin a pleasant lunch?

Mack smiled, though, when the topic came up; he's excited about Shaw and the players.

Shaw's not Cav, no one is. But he's been around the block—and the blockers—a long time, in the Big Ten. He's got a crucial job this spring.

He's got some talent to work with, including Cavanaugh's last recruits.

A Phat Pack revival isn't necessary, just some good old-fashioned pass protection.