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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 30, 2006

Truce be told, it will help UH

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

On a scale of things you hardly expected to see, June Jones semi-hugging ex-Kahuku High football coach Siuaki Livai and receiving a Red Raiders jersey with his name on it and have to rank right up there with ...

Well, Terrell Owens getting the key to the city in Philadelphia; Kim Jong Il and President Bush shaking hands in the White House Rose Garden; Barry Bonds getting a standing ovation in Dodger Stadium ...

Yet, there was the University of Hawai'i football coach deep in the heart of Red Raider country, the Brigham Young University-Hawai'i banquet hall in La'ie, at a testimonial for Livai last week.

Nor had Jones been dragged there, kicking and screaming, from his Manoa campus office. We're told he went willingly in the spirit of detente and at the request of others. That he and Livai shook hands and said nice things, thawing some of the ice shelf from their frosty relationship. Pictures of the event are said to be collector's items.

For all the shocked looks of bystanders upon Jones' arrival, the significance of the event, however, goes beyond one remarkable evening. Together with several other steps Jones has taken and is said to be considering, they paint a picture of a coach now willing to step out of a comfort zone and beyond ego to make changes for the good of the program he heads.

They suggest a man who is now willing to put aside personal frustrations and animosities to venture onto middle ground and see it through.

And, Jones and Kahuku have had frustrations with each other. Jones pointed an accusatory finger at Livai on 2005 letter of intent day for UH's difficulty in landing Red Raider players and keeping his recruiters out of there until this year. This past recruiting campaign, one in which UH landed two Red Raider players, a Kahuku employee reportedly told a UH assistant, "I hate you guys."

Now, we're told, Jones has signalled an eagerness to sit down with new Kahuku coach Reggie Torres and the school administration in a summit brokered by First Hawaiian Bank's Walter Dods, Tony Guerrero and Hawai'i High School Athletic Association director Keith Amemiya. Exactly the kind of meeting that he was said to have rejected out of hand 12 months ago.

Word is Jones and some of his coaches may even hold an instructional football camp on the North Shore.

For someone who had been perceived as polarizing, this comes off as bridge-building and fence-mending. The re-engagement with the state's prep powerhouse comes after Jones has re-engaged with defense, dedicating 17 of 24 scholarships for defensive recruits.

Jones has made immediate and notable upgrades in academics, kicking lagging players off the roster and suspending others from practice in the wake of an embarrassing NCAA Academic Performance Rate report.

All needed, of course, but not always the perception of the kind of dedicated action we're used to seeing. Small steps, perhaps, but for someone whose stubbornness has been notable in recent years, their sum indicates a willingness to reconsider and adapt. For a coach who is fond of citing "this is who we are" and "this is what we do" as reasons to be rigid, these are examples of positive flexibility.

We're left to speculate on some of the motivation here. You'd like to think it springs from the realization these and other steps are what are needed for the program to reach its potential after the downer of a 5-7 season. But it could be driven in part by a contract that will be coming up for renegotiation.

Nor has it escaped notice that Kahuku, where UH has benefitted from the play of Tala Esera and Leonard Peters among others, has another bumper crop of talent, including highly sought Kaniela Tuipulotu, a 6-foot-2, 261-pound defensive lineman.

Whatever the forces at work, the moves by Jones are both significant and welcome.

Now, if there was only a way to get Kim and Bush together.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.