Jones, SMU arrive in Hawaii


POSTED: Sunday, December 20, 2009

June Jones has quite a bit on his mind this week:

The emotions of returning to Hawaii two years after his jolting departure to SMU.

The logistics of transporting a sizable travel party from Dallas to Honolulu.

Then there's a game plan to finalize in advance of the Mustangs' first bowl appearance in a quarter century.

So once he stepped off the bus at the Sheraton Waikiki yesterday, the former Hawaii head coach's thoughts, of course, turned to ... man-o-war?

“;The first thing I asked (former UH linebacker) Chris Brown was 'Is it a full moon?' Because I can see our guys jumping in there and getting jellyfish stings,”; Jones said.

Given his island ties, Jones certainly has some local knowledge working in his favor this week in bringing the Mustangs (7-5) over to face Nevada (8-4) in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve.





        Who: Nevada (8-4) vs. SMU (7-5)

When: Thursday, 3 p.m.


Where: Aloha Stadium




Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM




It's a trip brimming in significance for both Jones and the SMU program as a whole. So delays and strong headwinds that added nearly 3 hours to yesterday's journey and forced the Mustangs to cancel a light practice did little to sap their spirits upon their arrival.

“;It felt great,”; said Jones, who will make his fourth appearance in the Hawaii Bowl. “;I'm really going to be able to relax a little bit after the game. But right now it's good to see familiar faces and say hello, but you're kind of consumed with the game-day activities.”;

Although the Mustangs' focus will be on preparing for Thursday's game against Nevada, the emotions figure to ramp up a bit this morning when they report for practice at Aloha Stadium.

Hawaii went 54-20 at home in Jones' nine seasons, including a 15-1 stretch in his final two seasons. The run was capped by a dramatic victory over Washington to punctuate an undefeated regular season in what would be his last game in Halawa.

His departure following UH's loss in the Sugar Bowl rocked a program he helped revive a decade ago when the Warriors shared a WAC championship and defeated Oregon State in the Oahu Bowl.

Jones earned a return trip by resurrecting a similarly moribund SMU program. After going 1-11 in Jones' first season, the Mustangs were among the nation's most improved teams in going 7-5 this fall to earn their first postseason berth since playing in the 1984 Aloha Bowl.

Although he wants the team to soak in the bowl experience, he expects the Mustangs to snap into game mode fairly quickly.

“;They're excited to be here, they've worked real hard to be able to have this reward, it's fun to watch them,”; Jones said.

“;Some of these kids have longed to be successful,”; he added. “;They went through two 1-11 seasons and an 0-12 season. So to win seven games is pretty unbelievable.”;

Along with the head coach, the Mustangs' Hawaii Bowl berth represents a homecoming of sorts for much of the SMU coaching staff. Dan Morrison, Dennis McKnight, Jeff Reinebold and Wes Suan accompanied Jones from Manoa to Dallas following UH's Sugar Bowl appearance to cap the 2007 season.

Adrian Klemm, an All-Western Athletic Conference lineman in 1999, was hired as offensive line coach this season, and former UH running back Michael Brewster is now part of the Mustangs' video department.

All told, SMU's travel party is expected to reach about 350, with the entire Mustangs roster, band, cheerleaders and staff among those making the trip to Hawaii.

The connections extended to their stay at the Sheraton, where Brown is now a member of the security staff and gave the team a briefing on the do's and don't's for their stay.

Jones still owns a home in Hawaii and plans to extend his stay following the bowl game.

He set the Hawaii Bowl as a goal for the Mustangs when the game's arrangement with Conference USA opened the possibility, and had hoped to face his former team. But Hawaii fell one win short of bowl eligibility.

“;I was rooting for them,”; Jones said. “;I just felt like if they had beaten Wisconsin, it would have been an unbelievable day at the stadium. I don't know if we could have gotten a play off with the loudness of that crowd.

“;Hopefully, they'll be cheering for SMU.”;