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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, June 20, 2003

Hawai'i investing in Jones

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

"They want to pay the football coach at the University of Hawai'i how much?" people asked in bewildered amazement.

A reaction to the proposal to pay University of Hawai'i football coach June Jones' more than $700,000?

Well, you certainly hear some of those same sentiments voiced now.

But we're talking almost five years ago when UH was preparing to pony up a then-unheard of $320,000 package to bring Jones to Manoa in the first place.

At the time — and, thankfully, its memory grows distant with each triumph — the program formerly known as the Rainbows had lost a national-worst 18 consecutive games over two seasons, most of them not even close.

Some fans, among the dedicated few still showing up, anyway, wore paper bags on their heads to home games. One group of sign-holders even implored: "Dr. Kevorkian, could you help UH? Please!" on national television.

The headline over a newspaper's lead editorial earlier in the year had counseled, "UH should reconsider Division I athletics." And, it didn't mean putting more money into them.

To imagine that, going on five seasons later, UH could even be out in the community passing around the hat for the kind of salary numbers being thrown around now without having every door on Bishop Street slammed in its face is testament to the depth of the change in fortunes.

Once more, then, this time in salary figures previously unimaginable here, UH finds itself investing in Jones, the coach who had long ago been groomed to take over his family's Portland, Ore., stockbroker business.

That UH maintains it has gotten enough donors on board to underwrite the hefty raise without touching legislatively appropriated funds or diverting scholarship monies would be a remarkable feat in itself.

And, UH officials owe it to the taxpayers today to provide a full, open and frank accounting that it is indeed being done that way so not as to compromise the school's foremost educational mission.

When the regents approve the five-year, multi-million dollar contract — and we're told no significant roadblocks loom — it will be as an investment in the Warriors' future as much as a recognition of the considerable services rendered. It will be a clear statement that says the athletic department and its constituency recognize the leaps and bounds of the last four seasons and are committed to improving upon the 31-20 record of success, not just resting upon it.

It will also mean that UH football has reached the point where a significant portion of the community and its money has returned to embrace the program and support its future.

Given the depths of where UH football was five years ago, that might be the most noteworthy milestone of all today.