By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
When Todd Graham resigned as University of Hawaii head football coach on Jan. 14, my first choice to replace him was June Jones. JJ wasn’t the ideal candidate, in my estimation, but the program needed a quick fix and that’s what I thought Jones would bring. He would stabilize Rainbow Warrior football and serve as a placeholder until the next coach was ready to take the reins. (Yes, like Athletics Director David Matlin, I visualized a succession-type plan.)
But today, just over a week since Timmy Chang was hired as the head coach, I’ve come around to the idea that perhaps Chang is both the quick fix and the long-term solution. Like many of you, I’ve been impressed with Chang’s approach to getting UH football back on track, and I’m starting to think the good times may come sooner than I originally thought.
Yes, Hawaii has been hit hard by the departures of many of the team’s best players. But here are five reasons why the Rainbow Warriors can still win right away under Chang and earn a bowl bid this season:
- The team will learn from last season’s trials. Despite the reported turmoil and unhappiness within the program, last season’s team went 6-7 and earned an invitation to the EasyPost Hawaii Bowl. Chang took this job with his eyes wide open. He’s talked to the returning players and coaches, and I’m sure he’s got a handle on what went wrong. This is going to sound like a knock on Graham, but it really isn’t. Plain and simple, the Rainbow Warriors are already in a better place than they were just two weeks ago. It’s a fresh start for the football program, and I’m betting the stench of last season’s woes will be left behind for good.
- Chang knows what it takes to win. Chang won as a Saint Louis QB, and he won at Hawaii. (With 29 wins as a starter, he is UH’s winningest QB in school history.) Don’t forget his two MVP performances in the Hawaii Bowl, where he passed for a combined 880 yards and nine TDs in wins over Houston and Alabama-Birmingham. As an assistant coach at Nevada, he helped the Wolf Pack earn postseason appearances in four out of his five seasons. My point is that Chang has won at every level as a player and coach. Sure, he’s never been a coordinator at the FBS level. You know who had lots of coordinator experience? Fred von Appen and Norm Chow.
- The schedule is mostly friendly. Take away the road game against Michigan and the rest of Hawaii’s 2022 schedule seems manageable. UH opens with a home date against Vanderbilt, which is an SEC school but went 2-10 in 2021. At the very least, it should be a winnable game. The rest of the non-conference schedule includes home games against Western Kentucky and Duquesne, and a road matchup with New Mexico State. In the Mountain West, Hawaii will host Nevada, UNLV, Utah State and Wyoming, and travel to Fresno State, Colorado State, San Diego State and San Jose State (and Chevan Cordeiro). Hawaii had six home games in 2021. This year, there will be seven.
- Home field advantage. Hopefully, the COVID-19 pandemic will have eased up by the fall, allowing for 100 percent capacity at Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex. Matlin has stated that he expects an additional 1,000 seats to be added to the facility, bringing the total capacity to 10,000. The home crowds last season were mostly sparse, but we witnessed the welcome arrival of a boisterous and spirited student section. As excitement for the Timmy Chang era and “Da Braddahhood” builds, just imagine what the opening night crowd might be like. Ten thousand fans in a packed stadium makes for a better game environment than 20,000 fans in a cavernous 50,000-seat stadium.
- You gotta believe. That’s it. You just gotta.
Oh, and here’s one reason why the 2022 season could be a real struggle:
- Unless Chang and his staff can fill all the pukas on Hawaii’s depleted roster, there just won’t be enough talent to win right away. Tomorrow is national signing day, and UH has secured some solid commitments from players who should be able to contribute immediately. But signing day is just part of the process. Expect the coaching staff to reach deep into the transfer portal and try to bring in plug-and-play talents on both sides of the ball. How successful they are will dictate whether this next season will be a rebuild or (hopefully) reload.