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Ranking the Coaches

By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.

Since joining the ranks of NCAA Division I, the University of Hawaii football program has seen its share of highs and lows – including a Sugar Bowl appearance (Yay!) and a winless season (@&#%!). During this span of time, the program has had 10 different head coaches, including new head coach Timmy Chang. We thought it would be fun to rank the coaches from best to worst. Take a look and see whether you agree with our ranking.

1. JUNE JONES. (1999-2007). Hawaii’s all-time winningest coach in the Division I era, with a 76-41 record over nine seasons. His run-and-shoot offense put up gaudy numbers and made Hawaii relevant again in college football. His signature achievement, of course, was the 2007 season, when UH went a perfect 12-0 in the regular season, captured its first outright WAC championship and appeared in its first-ever major bowl game – the 2008 Sugar Bowl. That “sugary” season ended on a sour note, with the Rainbow Warriors getting pummeled by Georgia and Jones leaving for SMU. But no head coach has taken the program to greater heights. That’s why he’s our No. 1.

2. BOB WAGNER. (1987-1995) “Wags” did something even Jones could not do: win a bowl game on the mainland. The Rainbow Warriors’ 27-17 victory over Illinois in the 1992 Holiday Bowl remains one of the milestone moments in Hawaii football history. Wagner, who was 58-49-3 as UH head coach over nine seasons, also was the man who broke the “BYU Curse.” In fact, his teams beat the rival Cougars three times. Upon replacing Dick Tomey in 1987, Wagner brought in Paul Johnson to install the triple-option spread offense, which was as effective as JJ’s run-and-shoot system.

3. DICK TOMEY. (1977-1986) One of the most beloved coaches in UH history. Tomey arrived on campus during a tumultuous time in the football program. Hired during the summer of 1877, he didn’t have the benefit of spring practice, but was able to cobble together a unified team that went 5-6 on the season. Although known as a conservative coach, he delighted the Aloha Stadium crowds with the occasional “muddle huddle” plays, no-huddle drives and platoon substitutions. Attendance soared under his tenure, as Hawaii took on national powers the likes of USC, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Michigan, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Tomey was 63-46-3 in Hawaii over ten seasons. In 1981, he also led the program to its first-ever national ranking. He never won a conference title, and that’s because BYU always stood in his way.

4. NICK ROLOVICH. (2016-2019) Like his mentor and former coach, June Jones, Rolovich inherited a program that was in shambles. He led the Rainbow Warriors to an admirable 7-7 season in his first year, including a convincing win over Middle Tennessee in the 2016 Hawaii Bowl. In his four seasons in Hawaii, “Rolo” went 28-27 and made three Hawaii Bowl appearances. His 2019 team captured the Mountain West Conference’s West Division.

5. GREG McMACKIN. (2008-2011) Coach Mack had the unenviable task of following June Jones and Hawaii’s Sugar Bowl season. He also had the misfortune to make his head coaching debut against the No. 5 team in the country, against Tim Tebow and Florida in Gainesville. He was 29-25 in his four seasons at the helm, leading UH to a pair of Hawaii Bowl appearance (both lopsided losses). His best season was 2010, when the Rainbow Warriors won nine of their final 10 regular-season contests and captured a share of the WAC title.

6. LARRY PRICE. (1974-1976) Price’s tenure as UH head coach ushered in the school’s entry into the NCAA Division I level. Noted for his “Hula-T” offense – a veer option attack that featured a running QB – Price also employed an attacking defense that the local fans appreciated. The installation of the Hula-T serendipitously led a young QB named June Jones to transfer to Portland State, where he became an eager disciple of Mouse Davis’ run-and-shoot offense. Price went 15-18 in his three years as head coach.

7. TODD GRAHAM. (2020-2021) On the field, the Rainbow Warriors under Graham had some success, most notably a win over Houston in the New Mexico and an upset over nationally ranked Fresno State. Overall, however, Graham was 11-11 in his two seasons – not horrible, just…mediocre. True, he led Hawaii to two bowl invites (last season’s Hawaii Bowl contest against Memphis was canceled due to COVID), but if we’re being honest neither UH team was actually bowl worthy. Of course, what really tarnished Graham’s UH tenure were the accusations of poor treatment of players and bad morale within the program.

8. NORM CHOW. (2012-2015) His UH tenure began with “Chow Time” and ended with “Ciao Time.” His four seasons leading the UH program – his record was 10-36 – lent credence to the adage that great assistant coaches don’t always make great head coaches. Twice went winless in the Mountain West. The low point was the 2013 season, when the Rainbow Warriors lost their first 11 games of the season before posting a win over Army in the season finale. (Note: Chris Naeole was named interim head coach after Chow was fired during the 2015 season and went 1-3.)

9. FRED VON APPEN. (1996-1998) As bad as Hawaii’s 2013 campaign was, it was still better than Von Appen’s 1998 season, when UH went 0-12. The former San Francisco 49ers assistant spent three miserable years in Hawaii, posting an overall record of 5-31. His best moment in Hawaii was the 1997 season opener, when UH defeated Minnesota, 17-3. Wrote Honolulu Advertiser columnist Ferd Lewis after the game: “Now that the Rainbows have 1996 behind them, there is, indeed, a lot to look forward to.” The best thing about the No. 8 coach on this list was his firing led to the hiring of our No. 1 on this list.

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