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Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, February 9, 2000

N. F. L. _ H A W A I I



File photo

vonAppen speaks his mind

The former Hawaii head coach has
landed with the NFL Vikings

By Paul Arnett


A 15-month sabbatical ended yesterday for former University of Hawaii head coach Fred vonAppen.

Minnesota's Dennis Green called vonAppen and asked if he would be his defensive line coach for the National Football League team.

"I said yes," vonAppen told the Star-Bulletin last night. "To be honest with you, I wasn't sure if I would ever coach again. But I needed to do something. I was too old to sell aluminum siding, so I guess this is it."

VonAppen left Hawaii last summer to meet with old friends in the NFL to see if he was right for any potential openings. He visited with the Oakland Raiders, the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks before settling as a volunteer coach for the University of Washington.

"It wasn't as if I had 999 offers waiting for me," vonAppen said from a hotel room in Minnesota. "I did a little personnel work for the Seahawks the past few weeks, but this is what I wanted to do -- return to the NFL.

"A lot has changed over the last nine years. There is a sense of immediacy. If you don't produce, you're gone. I haven't even had a chance to tell (Seattle head coach and close friend) Mike Holmgren that I'm leaving because he's out on the road. It all happened rather quickly."

VonAppen was studying cutups from the Senior Bowl to help Seattle with the upcoming draft when Green asked vonAppen if he was available. They both coached together in 1988-89 with the San Francisco 49ers. VonAppen was a defensive line coach and Green worked with the receivers.

Green left the following year to take over the head coaching spot at Stanford University. VonAppen went with him to serve as the Cardinal's defensive coordinator. It was one of four Stanford stints for vonAppen.

On joining the Vikings: "It wasn't as if I had 999 offers waiting for me. ...To be honest with you, I wasn't sure if I would ever coach again."

On UH's success: "I felt very proud for those kids because a lot of them worked their butts off to get where they did. They deserve everything that came their way."

"I was at Dennis' house tonight for about 15 minutes to let him know I was here," vonAppen said. "I'm glad to be doing something again. These past 15 months have been hard on me because for the first time in my life I didn't really have anything to do."

VonAppen is replacing Andre Patterson who left to be the defensive line assistant for the Dallas Cowboys. Green said in a press release he was happy to be reunited with his old friend and coach.

"Fred brings a wealth of experience as a defensive line coach, which has been his area of expertise throughout his career," Green said. "We were fortunate enough to work together with the 49ers."

Much like former head coach Bob Wagner did after he was fired in 1995, vonAppen opted not to remain in the islands during the season. He lived in Seattle and kept up with the Rainbows through newspaper articles.

"It was too hard for me to watch them," vonAppen said. "I did watch a little bit of the Oahu Bowl and their opener with USC. I felt very proud for those kids because a lot of them worked their butts off to get where they did. They deserved everything that came their way.

"(UH head coach) June (Jones) and his staff did a great job of coaching them. I felt sorry that we weren't able to get the same results, but that's over with. All you can do is move on and be happy for the players and their families."

VonAppen took over for a fired Bob Wagner in 1995. In three years, the Rainbows were 5-31, including an 0-12 record in 1998. His three years here were tumultuous, but he did pave the way for several improvements to the program.

He first introduced the training table, was responsible for the new Shannon Smith locker room, insisted the Rainbows needed charter flights for road games -- something used last season by Jones on the Tulsa trip -- and was critical of the current grass fields. Those are being refurbished and should be ready for fall camp.

VonAppen also did a better job in recruiting that some UH administrators care to admit. There's little question Jones did an outstanding job of coaching this season, but a dozen of the main contributors were vonAppen's recruits, including quarterback Dan Robinson, wide receiver Dwight Carter, defensive backs Quincy LeJay and Nate Jackson, linebackers Jeff Ulbrich and Yaphet Warren, and running backs Afatia Thompson and Avion Weaver.

"Give Guy Benjamin a lot of the credit for also turning around the academics there," vonAppen said. "I can't take credit for any of that other stuff because not a lot of things were changed on my watch.

"I was to blame for part of that because I charged in there like a bull and made some enemies. But give Guy credit for recruiting a lot of those players who made a difference this year. I just wish we could have been around when the payoff came.

"I also heard they eased up on the academic standards to get the local kids in. That's something Bob and I have been saying for years. The local players should be given some help, if needed, because it is their university."

VonAppen said that Adrian Klemm and Kaulana Noa graded very well in the Senior Bowl clips he saw.

He was particularly happy for those two players because of all the changes they went through in five seasons.

"I thought Coach (Mike) Cavanaugh did an excellent job getting those guys ready this year," vonAppen said. "June had a good system and the offensive line responded to it. Both of those guys should go in the first three rounds.

"I look back on it and realize the loss of Shannon took a lot out of me personally. We did the best we could, but it just wasn't good enough. The thing I'm proud of is those players never quit. A new coach came in and they responded well."

VonAppen begins his new job today. The former UH coach not only reunites with Green but with director of pro personnel Paul Wiggins as well. He was the head coach at Stanford the first time vonAppen coached at the San Francisco Bay area university in 1982.

"I can hardly wait to see Paul again," vonAppen said. "I feel like one part of my life is over, but a new door is opening. I feel fortunate to be with a team that's so close to being a contender for the Super Bowl.

Hopefully, I'm ready for the rigors of the NFL."

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