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Star-Bulletin Sports

Tuesday, March 28, 2000

R A I N B O W _ F O O T B A L L

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
University of Hawaii defensive coordinator Kevin
Lempa, left, barks out instructions during spring
practice at Cooke Field last week.

Keeper of
the defense

Kevin Lempa, the University
ofHawaii's new defensive
coordinator, picks up where
his predecessors left off

By Paul Arnett


THE defensive coordinator branch of the University of Hawaii's family tree doesn't bend, much less break.

Despite being a major player in Division I football for only two decades, the lineage on the defensive side of the football is pure contact. Dick Tomey, Bob Wagner, Rich Ellerson, Chris Smeland and Don Lindsey are just a few of the names in lights.

In the mid-1980s, Wagner produced the first unit in Western Athletic Conference history to finish in the top 10 nationally in total defense. Before Ellerson left for Arizona in 1991, he perfected a defensive design that would come to be known as the famed "Desert Swarm."

Smeland didn't leave as lasting an impression, but the defensive coordinator at Louisville was on the headsets for the championship season of 1992. Using Ellerson's blueprints and mixing in a few sketches of his own, Smeland came away with an 11-2 season that included a victory over the University of Illinois at the Holiday Bowl.

Lindsey inherited a defense that was more statistically challenged than most, but still led the Rainbows to a No. 21 ranking in total defense in 1997. Shifting Lindsey to offense proved to be former UH head coach Fred vonAppen's undoing, clearing the way for June Jones and his defensive coordinator of choice, Greg McMackin.

McMackin's brief stint during the Rainbows' magical run of 1999 wasn't so pleasing to the eye on paper. Hawaii wasn't rated higher than 53rd nationally in any of the five major defensive categories.

Even the attacking style by McMackin didn't always offset an error-prone offense. The Rainbows forced as many turnovers (35) as they committed to finish tied at No. 57 in the country with a margin of 0.00.

Despite those numbers, McMackin restored a sense of pride to a beleaguered Rainbows' unit. He has since left to be the associate head coach at Texas Tech, but Jones is confident that the new keeper of the defense will work out just fine.

At first glance, rookie defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa seems to be a different breed of cat than some of his Rainbow predecessors. He has yet to come to practice in a hard hat, stand on top of a tower wearing mirrored sunglasses or get down in a good-old-boy-stance and say to his defensive linemen, "Come to papa."

But despite his polite demeanor and Brooks Brothers background, you get the feeling the former San Diego Chargers assistant can roll up his sleeves with the best of them.

"I had thought about hiring Kevin last year, but the timing just wasn't right," Jones said. "He has come in and done a great job in the short amount of time he has been here."

For the first two weeks of spring practice, Lempa learned what the Rainbows knew, then added his own interpretations to the mix. Most of the defense is in place. Now, it's a matter of applying the terminology against the kind of offenses Hawaii will see in the coming season.

"For the first few weeks, I watched a lot of film to see what we ran last year and how teams attacked what we did," Lempa said. "The first two weeks of spring were spent with some of the younger players. When we come back from the break, we'll work more with the top two units."

Lempa will employ a similar defense to McMackin's. The blitz packages may vary, but the idea to break down the protection of the offensive line is still the same.

"I'd say we have about 75 percent of our defense in place," Lempa said. "A lot of the time we will work against our No. 1 offense, but we will also have our scout team simulate offenses we will face this fall."

That includes the option offenses of Rice University and Texas Christian, the pass-happy attacks of the University of Nevada and Louisiana Tech, and the bruising Big Ten running game favored by Wisconsin.

The bottom line for Lempa is for Hawaii to do a better job against the run. The Rainbows were respectable defending the pass last year, but woeful vs. the rush, yielding an average of 186.6 yards a game.

"That's one area we want to improve," Lempa said. "The last few spring practices we'll work against the option. Obviously, we didn't see a whole lot of that with the Chargers the past two years, but I had to defend the option when I coached at Boston College and Dartmouth College. So I'm familiar with it."

Lempa is also familiar with success. As an assistant with the Chargers, he was responsible for helping develop one of the more dominant defenses in the NFL. He believes the Rainbows have a chance to be equally effective in the WAC this season.

"I've enjoyed these first two weeks of practice to get to know the players and what we did defensively last season," Lempa said.

"I'm excited working with these coaches. They know the defense and they've passed that on to the players. We're just going to continue what they've done here, add a few wrinkles of our own and prepare ourselves for the fall."

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