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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 21, 2006

Relaxed and ready to go

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

June Jones, who will enter his eighth year as Hawai'i football coach, says he's seeing progress in his struggles to upgrade the program.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Life has been good recently for University of Hawai'i football coach June Jones.

He has settled his public feuds. He predicts his team could have a "special" season. And he has fully recovered from severe injuries suffered in a car accident five years ago.

"I was concerned after my wreck I wouldn't be as quick with things," he said. "After the first game, I knew I was all right. I just have trouble sometimes with names. But I remember faces, I remember everything, and I'm fine."

Jones recently sat down to discuss a variety of subjects. Here are his observations:

On the struggles of upgrading his program:

"I took criticism for changing the logo. I took criticism for wanting to play for free at the stadium. I took a lot of heat for that. It was frustrating not to see things change. But guess what? Now they've changed. For the first time in our program, we have a chance to keep going. What's frustrating is everyone connected with the program didn't have that vision, too, and so they became, to me, a not-productive position, also. (Detractors came from) outside and inside (the athletic department), people who I know love the school. It's OK to be against it. It's OK not to agree. But why would somebody want to hurt the school and say things that would sabotage the deal? I guess that's part of life. I didn't think it would happen in Hawai'i."

On his assistant coaches, whose contracts expired on March 31:

"I've addressed it to who it needs to be addressed to. Everybody's got problems. We've got more problems than that. That's one of our problems. Is it fair? No. But you don't have control over it. You can't complain. You feel lucky you have a job."

On UH quarterback Colt Brennan, who led the nation in passing yards and touchdown throws as a sophomore last season:

"If he has the year I envision him to have, I'll say he'll be a first-round pick (in 2007). He certainly has that capability. He has a chance if he's injury free."

On why Brennan is special:

"It's his charisma and leadership. His competitiveness makes him different. He's a leader. I can tell the team rallies around him. I think all of the (past UH starting) quarterbacks have had command of the team. But Colt's had it the day he walked in."

On changing Colt Brennan's low throwing motion:

"You can talk all you want about changing his motion. But when the pressure comes on, when things start happening and you don't have time to think, you do what you've done. He's thrown from that spot a lot of times. Can he be successful like that? As a sophomore, he was the No. 1 passer in college football. What do you think? He'll find a way to adjust."

On UH running back Nate Ilaoa, who is seeking a medical exemption to allow him to play as a sixth-year senior in 2006:

"I've not seen a guy like him, maybe Barry (Sanders, an All-Pro running back). Barry might be the only guy I've seen who has the ability to do certain things with the football. If Nate puts it together for a full year, he might be one of the best running backs in the country. He has to do it for a year. He can't do it for three games, or five games. He's got to do it for 12, 13, 14 games."

On his past public criticism of Ilaoa, who was out of shape at the start of last year's training camp:

"Nate has been one of my favorite players since he's been here. I'm harder on him, because of his potential. I said things about him (publicly) because I was privately critical of him for two years, and it didn't work. I've challenged him in front of the team. To me, he let himself down (at the start of last year). He let us all down. That's why he's working harder than he's ever worked in his life. His weight doesn't matter to me. He's 245 now, the same as he was last year. He can carry that weight if he doesn't get tired. If he's 245, and he can only carry the ball five times and I have to take him out of the game, then he's cheating himself. I wasn't sore about his weight (last year). I was sore because he was out of shape. He's in shape now."

On slotback Davone Bess:

"Davone is the best slot I've ever had, any level.

Before I made that statement, I looked at all of the receivers I've had in the National Football League. Overall, everything included, he's the best receiver I've ever had. It's everything catching the ball, quickness, acceleration. He's better than Ernie Givens. He's more athletic, and his catching range is way better. He's better than Andre Rison. He's smarter. There would be a good comparison with (Eric) Metcalf. His 40-yard dash isn't as fast as Eric's, but Davone is more of a natural athlete than Eric was. That's why we may let him return punts in certain games."

On former UH wide receiver Ashley Lelie, who did not participate in the Denver Broncos' mini-camp and is seeking a trade:

"I'm disappointed in Ashley. I tried to call him. ... I'm disappointed because he didn't return my calls.

"In the business now, the system has changed, and when you hold out, you can never regain that money. (At the end of this) year he was going to become a free agent. He really had a chance to realize what the system could do for him. ... Reading the paper, and talking to people who know him, he said he's going to sit out, which tells me he doesn't know the deal. If you sit out, they don't have to pay you, and they've still got you (under contract) for another year. The year doesn't go away."

On what Lelie should have done:

"If he wanted to get traded, there was a way to get traded, but it's not by holding out. The way to get traded is to go in and do everything that they want you to do. You go in and work out. You do everything all the way up to the first game, then say, 'I've fulfilled my part of it. I don't want to be here. Can you trade me?' He thought he would get traded before the draft. I was trying to tell him they're not going to trade him. And guess what? They didn't trade him. I didn't talk to anyone, but I knew how they were going to do it. They were upset he didn't come in during the workouts. So now it gets to be a personal thing. What did they do? They signed Javon Walker to $40 million. ... Had he gone in, they might not have traded for Walker. That $40 million might have been his next year. He'll be playing for less money (next year) than he's making now."

On Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, who was drafted by the New Orleans Saints:

Reggie Bush is the perfect guy for my (four-wide) system. He's not the perfect guy for a normal NFL system. He's still a great player, but there's no guarantee he's going to do, at his size, what he did in college football. Anybody who thinks that is not familiar with the deal. What running back who weighed under 200 pounds has dominated the National Football League in the last 20 years? Name one. It's because of the pounding (a running back) takes. He's a great slot, a great third-down back. But how is he going to block a 265-pound linebacker?"

On Bush's USC teammate, quarterback Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner:

"He's not a real mobile guy. And his arm strength, I mean, on a scale of 1 to 10, it's 6. I don't think it's a real powerful arm. He's a real competitive kid, but, man, when the weather starts turning, it's a little different."

On coaching at UH:

"I love it here. I love Hawai'i. I love the people. I love everything about it ... all of the different cultures. It's fun to watch the African-American players learn about the Polynesian culture. It's fun, for me, to watch the Polynesian players learn about where the other players have come from. They all work together as one. That's hard to do. We don't have the cliques that a normal football team has. Don't get me wrong. We do have some problems every now and then, but they're not problems other teams deal with."

On pushing to have ESPN impose a local blackout of games played at Aloha Stadium:

"We should have a Hawai'i exemption for ESPN. We have an (NCAA) exemption to play one more game (than other Division I-A teams). We have an exemption in many areas because our situation is different from (the teams on) the Mainland. In order for us to compete financially, they allow us to play an extra game. The same thing should happen with blackouts. ESPN has a corporate rule that there are no blackouts. But we should have a Hawai'i exemption, and I think (ESPN officials) would agree to it if we present it in the right way. No question. (A live telecast) affects us. No. 1, it changes our games from a Saturday night to a prime slot in the East. Our crowd is a different crowd. The same number of people are going to go to Michigan to watch Michigan whether it's on ESPN or not. Here, we're so isolated. People stay home. They don't come from Maui. They don't come from other places. If it's on ESPN, they don't have to jump on the plane. We're unique."

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.