Friday, July 27, 2001
Lumpkin happyRENO, Nevada >> George Lumpkin said a silent prayer over breakfast, but could just as easily have asked for divine intervention for the coming campaign.
to relinquish reins
UH's associate head football
coach is glad Jones is returning
By Paul Arnett
The associate head coach for the University of Hawaii wasn't long from being the opening act of the second session of yesterday's annual Western Athletic Conference media day at the Reno Hilton. It was a walk on the beach.
After all the things Lumpkin has said or done since close friend June Jones' crash on George Washington's Birthday, answering a few inane questions from the various media members is a fitting final act for the longtime assistant.
"I'm glad June's back, we all are," Lumpkin said. "It's a tribute to how well June has everything set up that we were able to go these past few months without him at full speed. He's fine. He's still sore.
"It's painful for him to travel. He came up to play golf in Northern California recently and he had to stand up (during the flight) pretty much all the way. But he's so much better than he was."
Lumpkin is convinced divine intervention played the key part of Jones' survival. Not even the daredevil head coach disputes that theory. But come September, local football fans will be more interested in the promised revival than anything else.
Maybe "Bless this food" wasn't the only thing on Lumkpkin's plate as he prepares for his 27th fall camp and the 12 regular-season games beyond. But he believes if the team could survive Jones' accident, everything else should fall into place.
"I don't think it's really been a distraction," Lumpkin said. "Our team is really close. June is very well-liked as a coach. There was a lot of love and concern from the players as well as the coaches and as well as the community.
"And I think the thing that we talked about going into spring ball was that if you want to do anything for June, practice hard and be a lot better when you step off the field at the end of spring than you were when you started. And I think we did that.
"I think the players, I don't know if you want to call it rallied behind him, but I think that they wanted to make sure that there was nothing for him to worry about when he got back. And that they would be very well-coached and a lot better than they were."
The team will have to be much-improved to match the 9-3 effort of 1999.
As magical as that year was, capped off with an Oahu Bowl victory over Oregon State, last season brought everyone back to earth in a hurry.
Lumpkin is quite sure divine intervention was around for the disappointing 3-9 finish. It was to teach one of life's greatest lessons that all glory is fleeting.
"I think they learned last year that winning isn't automatic," Lumpkin said. "I think that's where maturity comes in a little bit. I think they thought that maybe they were going to pick up right where they left off.
"Instead of making it happen, I think they thought it was going to happen. Just the way they've been working out and how a lot of people have dedicated themselves over the summer, I think they're going in with the right attitude. You have to work and play and fight for everything you're going to get."
The newcomers are due to arrive at fall camp on Aug. 13. Veterans should report by Aug. 16 with the first practice set for a day later. That should be an emotional moment for everyone; most of all for Coach Jones.
"It will be special," Lumpkin said. "We all went through a lot to get to where we are. But you know me, I believe the Lord has a plan. You just don't always know what it will be until it's shown to you."