By Paul Arnett

Friday, January 1, 1999

Things would be
different if Stan were
still with us

IT was a long weekend that began on Christmas Day in Honolulu with the Aloha Bowl and stretched into Sunday night with the Arizona Cardinals ending an NFL playoff drought in the desert sands of Tempe.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Watching football games that actually mean something is a rare treat, these days. But by late Monday afternoon, my old bones were feeling their 20-odd years of tracking down stories.

For one, I spent part of Monday finagling a media pass for the final Holiday Bowl press conference. And two, I also met with new Hawaii head coach June Jones at the San Diego Sports Complex after sleeping about three hours the night before.

Coming face-to-face with Jones with no one else in the room and the nearest competition 2,500 miles away was comforting. Sessions like these are a must for a beat writer and a head coach in order to build mutual trust. We left knowing a little more about the other.

Unlike so many people in this town, who take criticism personally, Jones understands the role of the media. Fred vonAppen also understood it. Bob Wagner? Well, let's just say he never suspended me, but we're not exactly pen pals.

THIS is not only my third head coach in four years, but fourth offensive coordinator and third defensive coordinator. Since 1995, nearly 30 coaches have come and gone, something not lost on Jones, who wants to stop the madness and build a model of consistency in the coming years.

That sounded good to me as I raced across town to the Harbor Marriott where I couldn't wait to get acquainted with cotton sheets and a fluffy pillow. I felt like Fred Flintstone in the episode where Barney, Wilma and Betty won't let him fall asleep. I could almost hear the cartoon character crying, ''Bed ... bed ... bed, bed, bed, bed, BED!''

Admittedly, I was a little dazed and confused stepping into the elevator that would take me to the 11th floor. I entered alone, leaned against the back wall and experienced a feeling of deja vu.

I suddenly realized that nearly six years ago to the day, Stan Sheriff and myself shared this same elevator. On that December night in 1992, the former athletic director was still celebrating Hawaii's stunning Holiday Bowl victory over Illinois. I even had to help him out and guide him to his room.

NOW, let me say that this isn't a few castoff pages from Stephen King's ''The Shining.'' It was the Marriott, not the Overlook, and I don't see things, ''That only people who shines can see.'' But in the few seconds it took me to go from the first to the 11th floor, I was struck at how much the university had suffered because of his death.

Granted, the guy wasn't perfect. Like any athletic director, he had his setbacks. But I wouldn't have been in that elevator at this moment in time had he survived his heart attack in January of 1993.

In all likelihood, Wagner would still be the head football coach. The athletic department wouldn't be facing a $1 million deficit that will grow ever larger should the men's basketball team continue to struggle.

There wouldn't have been a breakup of the league because Sheriff would have convinced UH president Ken Mortimer that a bigger WAC wouldn't be a better one. And ... Ding.

The soft musical note signaling it was my floor sounded before I worked myself into a frenzy. I glanced over to where Sheriff had stood all those years ago, and unfortunately, saw only my reflection staring back at me in the small-mirrored room.

Paul Arnett has been covering sports
for the Star-Bulletin since 1990.

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