On the line
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Hawaii offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh used Jonathan Ekno at a recent practice to show his players where they should hit an opposing player. At 5-foot-634 and 225 pounds, Cavanaugh is dwarfed by those he trains, but his reputation looms large.
Hawaii offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh
has the Warriors' hopes and his own
esteemed reputation at stake this season
By Dave Reardon
TWO kinds of people pepper their speech with "Know what I mean?"
Most use it rhetorically, merely to signal the end of a statement. Then there are the few like Mike Cavanaugh, those who really want to know if you get it.
"This is a big, big challenge," the Hawaii offensive line coach said yesterday, in his East Coast, gargles-with-gravel voice. "Know what I mean?"
Oh, yes. All who follow Warrior football know.
Cavanaugh's molding of his 300-pound puppies into a cohesive unit in time for the Aug. 30 season-opener is the biggest story line of UH's football offseason. It is a challenge that has Cavanaugh reaching early and often into his deep well of language designed to voice displeasure. Phrases much more colorful than "Know what I mean?"
Cavanaugh's blossoming reputation as one of the best in his business -- not to mention quarterback Tim Chang's health and UH's season -- is on the line. A line with three new starters.
Left tackle Wayne Hunter and center Lui Fuata -- who played the two most important positions of the five -- and right guard Vince Manuwai, one of the best players in the program's history, scatter to NFL camps this summer. Hunter and Manuwai will likely be picked Saturday, the first day of the NFL Draft. By this time next week, Cavanaugh will have had five players drafted by the NFL in four years.
DEAN SENSUI / DSENSUI@STARBULLETIN.COM|
Hawaii offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh watched over a morning practice last week.
He is left with a tentative starting lineup for 2003 that includes two freshmen and a sophomore at the tackles and center.
Those who know Cavanaugh best, professionally and personally, have no doubt the bald-headed 40-year-old with the overflow of personality and intensity can turn the young players into an effective unit. He did it before, in 2000, when the line allowed only 10 sacks after Adrian Klemm and Kaulana Noa were drafted.
He did it then with alternations of crassness and caring, intimidation and intimacy, humiliation and humor.
"He'll get in your face and let you know that something needs to be done, and it needs to be done now," said Kynan Forney, the UH right tackle in 2000 who now plays for the Atlanta Falcons. "But at the same time he'll praise you for doing good. Some coaches only harp on the bad, all the time. Cav isn't like that. He's fair."
His style hasn't changed.
Junior right guard Uriah Moenoa, a two-year starter at right tackle, is often a target of Cavanaugh's vocal nudgings. The coach wants him to lose weight and become more of a leader. The free-spirited Moenoa knows Cavanaugh is trying to help him, but he has no problem playfully poking back.
STAR-BULLETIN / NOVEMBER 2001|
Cavanaugh reacted to first-half fumbles in a game against San Jose State.
"He's always nipping at your ankles. He's kind of cool, though. Sometimes you get tired of it, but you realize he's on you because you're not doing what you need to do to succeed, and he's trying to help you," Moenoa said. "He's a great guy. He just looks funny. What? Four-11, 300 pounds? You gotta laugh just looking at him."
Actually, Cavanaugh is 5-634 and 225 pounds by his own measurement. He's tiny compared to his players.
"I must have been the smallest offensive lineman in the history of football," said Cavanaugh, who was a guard in high school in Connecticut. "I had a very short playing career."
It ended with a knee injury when he played linebacker at New Haven College in 1982.
After brief stints during college as a short-order cook ("Technique? Try not to burn it") and an elementary school P.E. teacher ("I was called to the principal's office for being too gruff"), Cavanaugh discovered his love for coaching, and offensive line coaching specifically.
Cavanaugh's draft picks
Draft on Saturday
Draft on Saturday
Patriots, second round
Falcons, seventh round
Rams, fourth round
He had to genuinely love it. Why else would he go from one no-name small-college outpost to another for 10 years after graduation from Southern Connecticut?
Wesleyan. Alma. Murray State. Sacred Heart. Ferris State. Not exactly the BCS tour.
Then his brother-in-law, Kevin Gilbride, called. When Cavanaugh finally got his break, it was huge. He went to work for the San Diego Chargers in 1997. That's where he met future UH coach June Jones.
"I could tell he was a heckuva guy," Jones said. "He's one of the smartest coaches I've ever worked with. He's technique-oriented and one of the best line coaches in the nation. That's why I brought him to Hawaii (as an original member of his UH staff in 1999)."
At San Diego, Cavanaugh also worked with Joe Bugel, he of the Washington Redskins "Hogs" fame.
"He's a great teacher and communicator," Bugel said. "His knowledge of the game is impeccable. The players had great respect and admiration for him. He's small, but he'd get in your face, love you, kick your butt, then love you again. A lot of NFL people still call me looking for Mike Cavanaugh."
Last year they included coaches from the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bugel said.
Cavanaugh doesn't say he will stay in Hawaii forever, but he doesn't plan to leave anytime soon, either.
"Some bad sources put out some bad rumors," he said. "First I was going to the Steelers, then last year I was going to Houston. This year it was Buffalo because Kevin (Gilbride) is there."
If anything, the Gilbrides have a record of sending kin to Hawaii rather than pulling them away from the islands.
Kevin Gilbride Jr. is a former UH quarterback and outfielder on the baseball team. Another Cavanaugh nephew, Mark Gilbride, is a UH student and basketball team manager. A niece, Karin Haines, might also enroll at UH this fall.
"After moving eight times, we're settled," said Laurie Cavanaugh, Mike's wife of 18 years. "Our older son, Shane, is in high school, and he would die if we moved. Blair has only really known Hawaii.
"I'd never been to Hawaii, and didn't know what to expect. But people are warm and friendly, and it's just like home," she said.
Though Mike and Laurie both come from families full of athletes and coaches, their meeting 20 years ago had nothing to do with sports.
"I was a nurse taking care of his mom," she said. "My first impression was how nice he is. I've always been comfortable with him."
She describes him as a passionate, caring person who loves his family and his work.
"He's warm. He's just tough on his players," she said. "But they know he cares about them and that's why they respect him and perform. He's kind of like a father figure to them."
Forney said he still calls Cavanaugh for advice on technique and how to handle NFL opponents.
"I still ask him for pointers, and he knows the league," Forney said. "His attitude has always been right up my alley. He's a guy who wants it for his players even more than they do for themselves."
Local high school coaches trust the man from Connecticut completely. They see what he's done for players like Manuwai and Hunter.
"Cav's been great with our guys," said Kailua coach Darren Johnson, who has sent four recruits to Cavanaugh the past two seasons. "He's the big daddy out there. He's a players coach and the players care about him. He's on the way to becoming a legend."
If UH's O-line makes a smooth transition, the current rebuilding project could make Cavanaugh's reputation unassailable -- perhaps elevate him to the unofficial title of best in college football.
One of Johnson's former players, second-year freshman tackle Samson Satele, could be a big part of it. Maybe the biggest.
"I'm seeing something in Samson Satele showing me he's got it, he might be the leader," Cavanaugh said. "He may be concerned about stepping on toes. But if you're a helluva player and you work hard, you've got every right to take control, whether you're a freshman or a senior."
Satele grins when asked to describe his position coach.
"He's very nice off the field, but something else on the field," he said. "With that old-school style, he pushes us hard. But we like it."
Cavanaugh loves to talk about leverage, balance, technique and, most of all, patience -- almost as much as describing how a certain player needs to "become a mean SOB and knock somebody's (expletive) into the ground."
But that's football.
"I have this reputation for being gruff, but I'm also the first guy to say hello, and ask how the day is. I think I'm honest, and most people appreciate that. Some don't, but you can't please everyone," said Cavanaugh, who often breaks out in laughter for no apparent reason. "I think with my personality, I could've been a good defense coach."
So why offensive line?
"There's so much hands-on teaching, of the schemes, of the fundamentals," said Cavanaugh, the old-school screamer who knows how to relate to today's players -- and help them get jobs. "That's what motivated me.
"Know what I mean?"
Hawaii loses three starters from last season's offensive line. With one week left in spring practice, these are coach Mike Cavanaugh's tentative starters: