By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
Today’s Senate informational hearing on the state of the University of Hawaii football certainly made for riveting viewing. Accusations flew, passions were ignited, grievances were aired and frustrations were vented. In other words, it was like the UH football program’s entire off-season wrapped up in a tidy two-and-a-half-hour made-for-TV drama.
But at the end of the session, what, if anything, was really accomplished?
That remains to be seen.
Organized by Senate Committee on Ways and Means chair Donna Mercado Kim and Senate Committee on Higher Education chair Donovan Dela Cruz, the meeting included video testimonies by a number of former UH players, including Leonard Lee, a walk-on safety out of Kapolei High School. In his testimony, Lee described UH head coach Todd Graham as a “tyrant.”
“I just don’t see anything changing with this guy [Graham] here,” Lee said. “He has a rejection of the [local] culture. He has a lack of respect for the players. I try to see the good in everybody, and I try to give people chances, but he’s hands down the worst guy I’ve ever met in my life.”
Former defensive end Derek Thomas said in his testimony, “Coach Graham truly has stripped the love and joy out of a lot of people for the sport [of football]. As you can see, the transfer portal is blowing up. All these guys are my friends. I know them and I talk to them. There’s only one reason why they’re choosing to leave this beautiful and incredible university. It’s because they cannot stand to have Coach Graham as their head coach any longer.”
In all, nine live video testimonies were allowed, including a rambling 10-minute monologue by attorney Michael Green, and all nine spoke out against Graham – a fact not lost on UH President David Lassner.
“With all due respect, that was cherry-picked testimony,” charged Lassner, the lone UH representative who attended the hearing in person. “We were told people could not testify in person. I read every bit of written testimony. My heart is wrenched also by what we just heard. I understand that. But this process is unbelievable. There was substantial amount of testimony in support of the Coach, of the athletic director, of the program. And it was not allowed here today.”
Lassner’s point is a fair one. An observer who only watched or listened to the testimonies presented at the hearing might conclude that Graham has no supporters, which would be untrue. Click here to view the full submission of written testimonials: WRITTEN TESTIMONIALS
UH Athletics Director David Matlin admitted that the football problem has problems that need to be worked on, and he acknowledged the impassioned testimonies of Graham’s detractors. He also said, however, “I’m going to be very honest about it. Not everything that was said is true.”
Graham appeared at the latter part of the hearing and defended his handling of the football program.
”No one as been verbally abused,” said Graham. “I actually came in and tried to clean up some of the language things. Obviously, we’re not perfect and don’t claim to be. All I can tell you is what my experience is in that locker room and with our team. Those [allegations of abuse] have not happened. We have obviously been demanding. We work with our kids and coach them hard, but we love them hard as well.”
Overall, most individuals acquitted themselves well in the hearing. Senators Kim and Dela Cruz were tough with questions, but also fair. Both Lassner and Matlin are to be commended for their patience and diplomacy in handling the adversarial nature of the proceedings.
For his part, Graham tried his best to put on a positive spin on things, even after a full hour of damning testimonies. With Graham, however, any and all talk is meaningless right now. Rainbow Warrior players and fans expect – and deserve – improvement in the form of meaningful actions.
Sen. Glenn Wakai scored an A for effort by asking Matlin if, were funding was available, he would buy out the remainder of Graham’s contract. (Seriously, did he actually expect the A.D. to say, “Oh, hell yeah!”?)
The one individual who looked out of place was Sen. Kurt Fevella, who was long on theatrics but lacking in preparation. He didn’t even know Matlin’s name.
In the end, the feeling here was that not much was accomplished in this gathering. There are people who support Graham and his drill sergeant style of coaching, and there are those that want his head on a silver platter. Neither group was satisfied today. No one’s mind was changed.
Ultimately, the true day of reckoning may come on Jan. 20, when the UH Board of Regents is scheduled to meet. Board Chairman Randolph Moore also took part in today’s hearing via video conferencing.