To Bring Back Old UH Coaches?

I had planned to write this week about the 20th an niversary of the Hawaii-North Carolina basketball game at Special Events Arena (now Stan Sheriff Center) back in 1994. I had so many wonderful memories of enthusiastic fans waiting patiently in long ticket lines, of head coach Riley Wallace walking through the crowd profusely thanking everyone, of the sell-out crowd that ultimately watched Riley’s ‘Bows battle Dean Smith’s Tar Heels. It was going to be a very positive column about a very special time in University of Hawaii athletics history.

But then the hammer dropped.

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June Jones speaks at a Sugar Bowl press conference in New Orleans in December 2007 RICHARD WALKER/STAR-ADVERTISER PHOTO

Frankly, so much seems amiss in Manoa these days, both in men’s basketball and football, it seemed that I should address that first. And so I will.

The news that head basketball coach Gib Arnold and his assistant Brandyn Akana were dismissed as the school awaits word on an NCAA investigation is fresh as I write this. Another assistant was named interim head coach as the university determined how best to move forward. Almost immediately, there was speculation that Riley Wallace — several years retired from coaching at Hawaii — might be interested in talking about the position.

I think that would be good thing.

More than anything else, the UH athletic program needs a sense of stability right now and it needs someone with credibility — someone who fans can believe in to help right a sinking ship. Despite his years away from the sidelines, Wallace fills that bill.

His familiarity with Hawaii and the university, his love of the game, his access to knowledgeable assistants and his relationships with those surrounding the program would be a better fit than bringing in someone brand new at this late date or turning over the program to an untested assistant.

Meanwhile, the other talk in Manoa is what to do about the struggling football program.

When I sat in the seats at an attendance-challenged Aloha Stadium for a recent game, I couldn’t help but overhear several fans clamoring for the days of coach June Jones. Others said there was no way that Jones would or could return, if or when Norm Chow eventually is given the pink slip.

But that was before Jones abruptly resigned from SMU “for personal reasons.” Virtually nothing was heard from him until just the other day, when he told a reporter that he was once again interested in coaching — specifically, he hoped once again to turn a program around as he had at Hawaii when he took over in 1999, leading the Warriors to the biggest one-season turnaround in NCAA history.

Speculation immediately suggested that Jones, a frequent visitor who still has a home on Hawaii island, was setting the table for a rerun at his old job. He said he had “recharged his batteries” and was ready to take on another challenge.

I have mixed emotions. I have always been a strong supporter of Jones as a head coach — he made Warrior football fun to watch. I like him personally. But I also know that there are many people who harbor ill feelings about some things that occurred during his tenure — which it’s said led Arizona State to withdraw its initial coaching offer a couple of years ago — and for the manner in which he left both Hawaii and SMU.

Coach Jones back at Hawaii? Too many question marks to give that one a knowledgeable answer.

Coach Wallace again? Why not? I know the movie Back to the Future came out in 1985 (not 1994 or 1999), but in these unsettled times in Manoa, its theme might just be Hawaii’s most alluring alternative.