Jones rebuilt confidence, players say
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
What the heck, Vince Manuwai remembered thinking, when he decided to honor a commitment to meet with the University of Hawai'i football coach with the unusual first name.
But his grandfather and uncle implored Manuwai to be polite, even though he was tired of "all of the bull of recruiting," and that led to the night that changed Manuwai's life forever. It was the first face-to-face meeting between Manuwai and the new UH coach, June Jones.
"Other colleges feed you the bull, 'If you sign with us, you'll start for us, automa-tic,'" Manuwai recalled.
"The (Utah) coaches were always calling me. With Coach Jones, it was different. He didn't tell me I would be a starter. He told me, 'Maybe you won't redshirt the first year,' but that was all. He said, 'There's going to be a big turnaround at UH, and you're welcome to be a part of it.' That was it. It was that simple."
Manuwai, who was impressed with Jones' confidence, signed with UH a few days later.
Now, Manuwai, a right guard, is a candidate for the Outland Trophy as the nation's best lineman. The Warriors, who were 0-12 in Fred vonAppen's final year as UH head coach in 1998, have won nine games twice in Jones' first three seasons in Manoa.
"Coach Jones was true to his word," Manuwai said. "I'm glad I stayed here."
Middle linebacker Chris Brown, a fifth-year senior, likened Jones to a man who could stare at an empty lot and envision a castle.
"We didn't win one game (in 1998), and then Coach Jones comes in and tells us how he expected us to win," Brown recalled. "We thought it was crazy what he was saying. But he was straight business. He was like, 'This is what we're going to do, this is what's going to happen.' He made little goals for us. As time went on, it was like, 'Oh, my goodness.' It started to happen, just like he said it would. More and more he started to gain our trust."
Jones is admittedly confident in his ability to revive struggling football programs. He helped rebuild teams in the National Football League, U.S. Football League and Canadian Football League.
"Every place I've been, we've had that type of deal," Jones said. "I think I'm a positive optimistic person. I knew what we had to do to get to where we wanted to go. I had confidence in my coaches. That's what happened."
With each project, Jones used a simple approach: Practice, practice, practice.
"In general, football coaches make the game harder than it is," Jones said. "It isn't rocket science. There are basic principles that allow you to be successful. In general, it doesn't matter at what level, we all make it too complicated. What a player needs is to practice something over and over. The more repetitions guys can have, the better chance they have to execute when they're under pressure. We want them to think, when they're under pressure, that 'I've done this a thousand times before.' If they think that way, they'll play better."
It is a system that helped fifth-year senior Matt Wright develop into a starting linebacker. Wright, an Iolani School graduate, nearly transferred after struggling as a running back. He moved back to linebacker in 1999, and slowly ascended the depth chart, finally earning a starting job last season.
"If you work hard, and keep working hard, you're going to play," Wright said.
Brown said: "There was no magic formula. It was real simple stuff. ... Coach Jones told us the things we needed to do to win, and we went out and did them. That's why we totally trust him. He's our leader."