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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, September 30, 2007

ESPN analyst stoked McMackin's fire

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

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MOSCOW, Idaho At age 58, soft-spoken and courtly, University of Hawai'i defensive coordinator Greg McMackin often cuts the figure of a grandfatherly coach.

Which, with two grandchildren, is what he is.

But for all the outward calm, usually the placid exterior and understatedness with which he normally chooses his words, do not fail to understand the competitive fire that boils within. Do not underestimate the passion he has brought to the game for nearly 40 years as a coach.

The Warriors certainly do not. Not after Friday night, anyway. For it was a real fire-and-brimstone oratory, punctuated by the flinging of a plastic ice water jug in a unit meeting, that drove home some of what the Warriors say inspired them to a rougher, more focused edge in yesterday's 48-20 trouncing of Idaho.

And smoke-coming-out-of-the-earholes inspired they were with five interceptions two returned for touchdowns and five sacks while holding the Vandals to just 2 of 15 on third-down conversions. On an afternoon when the UH offense sputtered with six turnovers matching the most of the nine-season June Jones era, the defense took custody of the Warriors' No. 17 national ranking. The hopes for an unbeaten season were in-the-vault secure in the meaty hands of the defense, which took UH to 5-0 and a fifth consecutive road victory over two seasons.

McMackin routinely describes the defense's job as "getting the ball back for the offense." Yesterday, the Warriors did it with a stunning take-no-prisoners ferocity.

"We weren't going to let anything happen," said defensive tackle Michael Lafaele.

"We came to make a statement," said linebacker Adam Leonard, who returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown.

That statement, as dictated by McMackin in a fit of pique, went something like this: "People have got the wrong impression of these guys. They're a bunch of hard-nosed, kick-(butt) type guys."

McMackin said he took pointed exception with comments made by ESPN commentator Craig James earlier in the week.

"He said we can't stop anybody. He said we shouldn't be a Top 20 team because we haven't played anybody," McMackin said. "You tell him 'thanks a lot.' He got me mad. I've been around too long and that stuff doesn't (usually) bother me. The problem is they haven't watched us play. I wouldn't mind if somebody said it about us if they had seen us. But he hasn't even watched us and you say that. That's not real professional."

Unlike his predecessor, Jerry Glanville, McMackin usually tiptoes around gestures that draw attention to him. He is not one for grand statements or in-your-face challenges. He deflects praise. After yesterday's game he attempted to play down his role in lighting a match under the defense with a dismissive wave of the hand. He preferred, verbally and physically, to pat the backs of his players and single out his assistant coaches for a job well done. All deserved, of course. But not the entire picture, either.

"What happened the other night was between me and the team," McMackin said. Except that the team, to a man, gave its defensive coordinator the credit. The assistants said, "it was him (McMackin)."

"He cares a lot about these guys and that (James' comments) really struck a chord with him," defensive line coach Jeff Reinebold said. "He can get riled up when he feels someone attacks his players."

Said Leonard. "It was personal."

And yesterday, with the way the Warriors played, there was no denying who made it that way.

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