Greatness and inconsistency


POSTED: Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What is the legacy of Timmy Chang?

Do you focus on the career passing record, and leave it at that? Maybe you embrace him for being synonymous with University of Hawaii football for the better part of five years. Or you appreciate some of his signature victories and moments. This is a celebration of greatness, after all.

Wait a second. Wasn't he also one of the most polarizing players in UH history?

All right, so perhaps you point out some of his inconsistencies, and how he remains an enigma to this day. How from game to game, few could predict whether they'd see “;Good Timmy”; or “;Bad Timmy.”; That he was sometimes—some would say often—the set-up man for quarterbacks after him to have success.

To write about Chang is to weigh these factors like two grenades and decide you have to pull the pins on both.

Ultimately, Chang's lasting impact with the Warriors goes beyond his NCAA records of the good (17,072 passing yards) and the bad (80 interceptions).

Some teammates remember a charismatic leader who could get them to give it their all simply by flashing his happy-go-lucky grin in the huddle. His quarterbacks coach remembers a gritty player who would bounce back from his worst performances by rising to the occasion with one of his best. And they still speak to his high character, despite Chang's recent arrest for allegedly throwing a woman's video recorder on a roof (no charges were filed) and his missing of a game due to academics.

And they credit him as being essential in the rise of Hawaii football to its greatest heights.

WHEN HE JOINED the program as a freshman in 2000, he already had the physical attributes necessary for success. Chang was best known for his quick release; at prep powerhouse Saint Louis he peppered defenses for more than 100 touchdowns. He wasn't the most athletic signal-caller and didn't have the strongest or most accurate arm, but he had enough of everything to make him a dangerous player.

By the third game, Chang won the starting quarterback job from junior college transfer Nick Rolovich. He showed flashes of brilliance in taking Western Athletic Conference freshman of the year honors and passing for more than 3,000 yards, but the Warriors struggled to a 3-9 record.

Chang sat out most of 2001 with an injured wrist as Rolovich rallied the Warriors to a 9-3 mark. While it set Chang back in the immediate sense, it gave him time to watch and learn. He returned to guide—with timely assistance from backups Shawn Withy-Allen and Jason Whieldon—the Warriors to winning seasons in 2002, 2003 and 2004.

Perhaps his biggest (and most overlooked) victory came at Fresno State in 2002, when UH had lost two straight and Chang orchestrated a come-from-behind effort in the fourth quarter to give the Warriors their first victory there in 30 years.

“;His evolution is just the number of reps and his willingness to say, 'I'm really going to learn this offense,' “; said Dan Morrison, Chang's position coach at UH. “;He spent the time to learn it, and he got better and better at it. Just throwing more than anybody else did. Which is why he has the record for yardage.”; He chuckled.

ALONG THE WAY, Chang got an earful from detractors, who pointed at inconsistency and a perceived lack of toughness (partly derived from “;pinkie pillow,”; the name he coined for the custom splint designed for his injured fifth finger).

Gerald Welch, a longtime friend and a receiver with Chang at both UH and Saint Louis, shakes his head about that one.

“;We stayed with him, didn't give up on Tim himself,”; Welch said. “;I think as long as we were on his side, I don't think it mattered much what anybody else would say. He tried not to read into all that, what people think and stuff. It's mainly what your teammates think about you. I think he got over the fans thing really quick.”;

The criticism came to the fore against Alabama in 2003, when Chang struggled to a 7-for-23 outing and was booed by the home crowd at Aloha Stadium.

Whieldon emerged to lead UH to victory.

It was a bittersweet moment for wideout Jeremiah Cockheran.

“;I felt it was disrespectful because Tim got booed, and for all that he's done for people,”; Cockheran said. “;That's what he knew he had to take from being like a rock star around Hawaii. If you do good, everybody's going to love you. If you do bad, everybody's going to boo you or hate you.

“;But it sucked, dude, to know that we go out there and bleed for the islands, and they go ahead and trash on him like that. But that's what you expect when you're on that level. I thought he handled himself with class that day and he took all that as motivation. There's always some haters out there. For me, those are the guys who didn't make it, and wished they could have been there.”;

Two games after Alabama, Chang came off the bench with a masterful performance in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl against Houston. He threw for five touchdowns and 475 yards against one interception in the triple-overtime win.

And despite a disappointing nine-game start to his senior year in 2004 (UH was 4-5 and had suffered 70-14 and 69-3 losses to Fresno and Boise State) he closed out his career in style. Chang earned the career passing record against Louisiana Tech and notched consecutive wins over Big Ten schools Northwestern and Michigan State to squeeze UH into the Hawaii Bowl again. He was named co-MVP in the Warriors' 59-40 bowl win over Alabama-Birmingham.

The often media shy Chang did not add his own perspective to this story. After repeated calls he agreed to an in-person interview but made a late cancellation. He did, however, send a text message: “;I'm sure you can find something to write about. Thank you for the honor.”;





        FBS all-time passing leaders

1. Timmy Chang, Hawaii 17,072
        2. Graham Harrell, Texas Tech 15,793
        3. Ty Detmer, BYU 15,031
        4. Colt Brennan, Hawaii 14,193
        5. Philip Rivers, N.C. State 13,484
        6. Kevin Kolb, Houston 12,964
        7. Tim Rattay, LaTech 12,746
        8. Luke McCown, LaTech 12,666
        9. Chris Redman, Louisville 12,541
        10. Chase Daniel, Missouri 12,515


Source: NCAAsports.org


SO WHAT IS Chang's legacy? Is he a great quarterback who, at 57 percent career accuracy, peaked and fell in rhythmic fashion? The quarterback who was discounted, only to rise again and prove people wrong? The guy who broke in the run-and-shoot for Colt Brennan over five years?

He meant much more than that to his former teammates, some of whom feel that their quarterback isn't given his just due for what the Warriors accomplished after his career, peaking in the 2007 Sugar Bowl appearance.

The self-deprecating Welch was a big part of the UH offense at slotback during Chang's career.

“;He was overlooked a lot,”; Welch said. “;When he played ... I wasn't the fastest guy. He didn't have the Davone Bess ... he did have Chad Owens, but speed-wise, game-changing receivers ... I don't think he had as much in his arsenal as the later quarterbacks.”;

Cockheran echoes his sentiments.

“;Colt was a very good quarterback and even though he brought us to the promised land, people in the islands shouldn't forget about Tim, because he's the one that started it all,”; Cockheran said. “;That's one thing I was worried about—I was going crazy during that (2007) season, but I didn't want them to forget about how great Tim was. He's the one who got the engine going for Colt.”;

Morrison noted how the names of Chang, Bess and Brennan are well-known around his current digs in Dallas. Hightower High School in Texas has even adopted the Hawaii “;H.”;

He summed up Chang's legacy best of all.

“;I think he put the University of Hawaii on the map nationally and consistently,”; Morrison said. “;And through it all, the ups and downs, he still finished in a way that said he obviously was a quarterback that made a huge difference in our program throwing the ball.

“;Every time he had tough times, he always came back and had better times.”;


Brian McInnis is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter. Tomorrow we unveil No. 15. See starbulletin.com for more on “;The Centurions.”;