Wednesday, June 21, 2000
are high for
Fans are excited to see if theDave Reardon
UH head football coach can win
another WAC championship
June Jones sits in his tastefully cluttered office, and ponders the p-word -- the one that bags college football coaches faster than NCAA violations or big-money alumni to whom they forget to lose to in golf.
"I've never really been one to feel pressure," the University of Hawaii head coach says after a brief pause. "From the time I played football in high school to now, I've always been able to block it out. You just work as hard as you can and play as hard as you can.
"To me, pressure is good. If you don't have pressure on yourself you will never be as good as you can be."
That anyone's even talking with June in June about pressure means one thing -- there is unprecedented excitement about UH football.
Last year at this time, Hawaii had nowhere to go but up. Now, after the biggest turnaround in college football history and continued high expectations locally, some expect yet another U-turn.
In local parlance, many on the Mainland jes' still no beleev.
They see a team that lost the bulk of its top players in key positions and is still dealing with poor recruiting classes before Jones arrived.
But the former NFL head coach said the situation now is not worse than a year ago.
"It's probably not a whole lot different except that we have a better idea of what we're working with. Last year we had no idea. Now we have a much better feel," Jones said. "We still have some unknowns. We've got a new punter, we will have to find a new quarterback. We have the answers, we just have to sort through to find them."
The national pundits all but laugh at the idea of a repeat performance by the defending co-WAC champions.
It doesn't bother Jones a bit.
"That certainly is something we don't pay a lot of attention to unless we can put it to some positive use to motivate the team," he said. "Last year our guys didn't pay attention to it, but we brought it to their attention by telling them, 'This is what they think of you.' "
June Jones, motivational zen master?
You probably won't see him at Barnes & Noble with shopping carts full of books individually selected for each of his players. But Jones' calm and positive demeanor reminds UH secondary coach Rich Miano of Los Angeles Lakers' coach Phil Jackson.
"It's like 'why worry if he's not worried,' " Miano said. "He's so positive and believes totally in his system. It carries over to everyone around him."
Everyone means everyone, not just Jones' coaches and players. After the miracles of last fall, he has the state hungry for -- and fully expecting -- more, immediately.
Jones doesn't try to temper the enthusiasm, but rather continues to stir it up, with a high-profile community presence to rival politicians during an election year. In fact, there are citizens serious about supporting him for public office.
Jones wants Hawaii fans to expect more, and says the best is yet to come, but it might take some time.
"We're proving we can play. The WAC is proving it can play. It's just not perceived that way in the rest of the country yet," Jones said. "It's realistic for us to think we can be a consistent Top 20 team, as TCU has proven. If we enter into that echelon, and as the schedule changes over the years, we could have a shot."
Could he dare to be referring to a national championship?
As any zen master knows, you have to envision something before it can happen. It's impossible now, because computers and schedules control the destiny of most college football teams, including the Rainbows.
"We're not in that caliber until we play a schedule that allows it," Jones said.
The future of the WAC -- if it has one -- will play a big part in determining UH's long-term football fate.
"I don't know what the future holds. I'd like to think it's bright for the WAC," Jones said. "I don't think anybody knows. I think we should always be protecting ourselves. We'd better have backup plans about going independent or becoming part of another conference. Sometimes you can't control your own destiny. Other people are calling that shot for us."
A rare situation for Jones.
Miano recalled the Fresno State game last year, one in which Jones seemingly willed the Rainbows to victory.
"We couldn't make a field goal or an extra point, and had it fourth-and-one on the goal line in OT," Miano said. "He didn't hesitate. He just said 'kick it.' I think that gave Eric (Hannum) the confidence to make it. He took the pressure off him. He does that all the time with the entire team."
Ka Leo O Hawaii