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Moving Forward

By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.

[This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of ESPN Honolulu or it’s management.]

One of the first things you learn in journalism school is the importance of objectivity and presenting both sides of a story. But before you can present both sides of a story, you need to be able to see both sides, or at least try to understand them.

In these divisive times we live in – politics, social issues, even the COVID-19 pandemic – too many people simply see what they want to see.

You can probably guess what I’m getting at here.

I get that sports fans and objectivity don’t often go hand in hand. I’ve been following University of Hawaii sports since I was an eight-year-old watching the “Fabulous Five” basketball games on TV. For nearly 50 years, I’ve lived and breathed UH Athletics. I suffered through Larry Little’s 1-26 season and Fred von Appen’s 0-12 campaign. I danced in the stands when we vanquished BYU in 1989. I was on the field when the Rainbow Warriors dethroned Boise State in 2007. Like all other Hawaii fans, I’ve experienced the most exhilarating of highs and the most unspeakable of lows.

As a UH fan, the last six weeks for the Hawaii football program – the financial lifeblood of the entire Athletics Department – have been as low as I ever could have imagined.

Even today, with Timmy Chang in place as the university’s new head football coach, there is a large segment of disgruntled fans still calling for blood. They want UH President David Lassner fired. They want Athletic Director David Marlin’s head on a platter. They want investigations. They want legislative action.

All because they’re seeing only what they want to see.

David Matlin is a good man and an able administrator. As an athletic director, he’s been able to navigate his department through some rough waters, including the pandemic and the closure of Aloha Stadium. From what I’ve observed, Matlin never wavered in his goals and vision for UH Athletics, even when dealt a losing hand. He always simply rolled up his sleeves and went to work. The expansion of the Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex in time for the start of the 2021 football season is Exhibit A.

Has he made mistakes? Sure. And, in retrospect, hiring Todd Graham was a big one.

But every athletic director is prone for making bad hires. Hugh Yoshida hired Fred von Appen. Herman Frazier hired both Jim Bolla and Gib Arnold. Jim Donovan brought in Norm Chow.

Team general managers hire bad head coaches. Business owners hire bad employees. Voters elect bad politicians. And so it goes.

When the news of Todd Graham’s resignation broke, my initial reaction was, “June Jones would be a good quick-fix solution.” I felt that the program had been been reduced to shambles, and Jones possessed both the name value and résumé to get it back on track.

I could be wrong, but I suspect that’s what Matlin had in mind, too. But Jones had his own idea of what should happen.

Rich Miano withdrawing his candidacy for the position and declaring his support for Jones were curious. Jones openly telling the media that, in essence, he didn’t think Chang was ready for the UH job was a red flag. It seemed Jones was using the media to campaign for the position.

Last Friday, when we heard that Jones had met with Matlin and turned down the job, I was as dismayed as most fans were. Then, when he came out on social media and put UH on blast, I remembered what I was taught as a UH journalism student: There must be another side of the story.

Oh, and “other side” came out the very next day, courtesy of UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl. Things got ugly real quick, with Meisenzahl accusing Jones of showing “zero integrity” in the hiring process. To tell the truth, the things Meisenzahl expressed that Saturday morning mirrored my own suspicions about Jones’ intentions. Yet, as silly as this may sound, the optimist in me still held out hope that the two sides might be able to work something out.

That obviously didn’t happen.

And I’m good with that. Look, June Jones is a great football coach, probably the greatest football coach the school has ever had. But Meisenzahl was right when he said negotiations are a give and take process. Neither side is going to get 100 percent what it wants. If Jones really wanted complete autonomy over the program – even its marketing – sorry, but that’s not going to fly. We don’t need more lame Mike Post compositions.

I think Matlin made the best of a bad situation. Selecting Chang might not be the most popular choice, but it’s not his job to make popular choices. It’s his job to make the best choices for the athletic program and the university.

You can’t rely on a fickle fan base to make the choices for you. There are fans out there who would say, “Give X whatever he wants to be our coach,” which is insane. No one person is bigger than the program. Not even June Jones.

So where do we go from here? We go forward, of course. We wait expectantly as Chang fills out his coaching staff. We hang with bated breath for news about prospective recruits (National Signing Day is Feb. 2). Then there’s spring practice. Oh, and the 2022 season opener against Vanderbilt is just 215 days away.

I’m ready to move forward. What about you?

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