Bill Kwon

Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Thursday, May 13, 1999

Jones willing to
make the tough calls

WATCHING the football Rainbows get hammered last fall -- hey, pick any game of your choice, they went 0-12 -- more than once I thought to myself, "They need a team transplant."

Well, wouldn't you know it. That's exactly what June Jones, University of Hawaii's new head coach, has done by releasing at least 20 players, about half of them on scholarships.

He felt that it was best to inform them now that they would not be invited back to fall camp when 50 new recruits, including walk-ons, join the team.

Sounds harsh? Welcome to the real world of college football. If you're going to try to keep up with the big boys, you've got to get some of your own.

There was no question that the Rainbow football team lacked talent. Just check the won-lost record, the NFL draft list and high school recruiting charts.

Since the euphoria of the 1992 Holiday Bowl-winning team, the 'Bows have been lean, not mean.

The UH athletic department had adopted a "make-do" philosophy.

Bob Wagner said it couldn't be done if the university discontinued its practice of not accepting at-risk athletes . He was given his walking papers after the 1995 season.

His successor, Fred vonAppen, learned for himself how bare the football cupboard was. He brought in a few athletes who were bigger and faster. But even they were not big and fast enough even against WAC competition.

WHAT vonAppen didn't do, though -- and in hindsight probably wished he did -- was clean house as Jones did.

If anything, vonAppen was trying to "make do."

Armed with a guaranteed five-year contract, Jones sure isn't wasting any time. For him, the future is now, judging by his recent action.

Jones admitted the task of telling the players that they weren't good enough for his system wasn't easy.

"It's a tough decision. That's what you get paid to do -- to make tough decisions," he said. "You've got to, if you want to improve your program."

The practice isn't anything out of the ordinary in college sports, according to Jones. "It's done quite often."

Auburn, which also is retooling its football program under new coach Tommy Tuberville after Terry Bowden resigned in midseason, released six athletes who were on scholarship.

I mention Auburn only because it was 105th in scoring last year. And it's not mere coincidence that UNLV, Oklahoma, Iowa and South Carolina -- all among the bottom 20 teams last year in scoring -- also have new coaches.

Of course, no one has to be reminded that Hawaii was 112th -- dead last -- in scoring in 1998.

JONES did say that the released players have a year --until next spring -- to find scholarships elsewhere.

"If I wanted to, I could have ended it now," he said.

Those who wish to remain at UH may get nonathletic scholarships if they qualify academically, according to Jones.

Jones also left open the opportunity for the released players to walk on during the fall, when the roster can be expanded from 105.

He said that his action shouldn't have come as a surprise to the players.

"We were honest with the guys going in (to spring camp). They knew we wanted to see how they would perform and whether they had a future with our team," Jones said.

"We have to get this thing turned around quickly."

If it required a team transplant, so be it.

Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

E-mail to Sports Editor

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