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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 6:34 p.m., Sunday, January 6, 2008

Steinberg: UH in running to keep Jones

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Agent Leigh Steinberg said June Jones, moved by e-mails and phone calls from Hawaii supporters, is having a change of heart and is reconsidering a decision to become Southern Methodist University's next football coach.

Steinberg said Jones arrived in Dallas today with the intent of joining SMU, but those plans have been put on hold.

Steinberg also said the UH president David McClain has assumed a lead role in negotiations. McClain, according to Steinberg, has addressed many of Jones' concerns about improving the UH athletic facilities.

Steinberg said he expects Jones to make a decision by early tomorrow.

Jones, whose five-year contract expires June 30, is the winningest football coach at UH, compiling a 76-41 record and seven winning seasons in his nine years at Manoa.

Jones reportedly was offered a five-year deal with an annual salary of up to $2 million to become SMU's head football coach.

UH, which made no contact with Jones or Steinberg during the 2007 season, tried to make a last-ditch attempt to keep Jones, offering as much as a reported $1.7 million. Jones' salary was $800,016 a year.

But Steinberg said, "the issue of June's compensation has never been June's concern. June's focus has been the facilities, and the ability to take the program to the next level. And I'll leave it at that."

Jones was hired by UH in December 1998 and resurrected a football program that had just finished the season at 0-12. He received a five-year contract extension and a raise from $320,000 in 2003. Since then, Jones had four winning seasons in five years, earned four bowl berths, and accumulated records of 11-3 and 12-1 the past two seasons. The 2007 season was capped by the school's first invitation to a Bowl Championship Series bowl, the Sugar Bowl in the Superdome in New Orleans.

According to close friend Al Souza, Jones resigned yesterday, a move that allowed Jones to formally entertain an offer from SMU, which has been without a head coach since firing Phil Bennett Oct. 28.

SMU has raised $10 million to give the next head coach during the life of a five-year contract.

SMU is a member of the 12-team Conference USA and finished 1-11 overall and 0-8 in the conference last season. The Conference USA, like the Western

Athletic Conference in which UH is a member, is not one of the six BCS conferences with an automatic berth to a BCS bowl.

Steinberg said Jones was inundated with calls and e-mails from fans imploring him to remain at UH.

"It was heart-wrenching," Steinberg said.

Steinberg said Jones was moved by the outpouring.

In an e-mail distributed to select friends Saturday, Jones included a copy of the letter of resignation he sent to athletic director Herman Frazier.

Souza said Jones broke down in tears as he mulled his decision Friday night.

"He doesn't want to leave," Souza said.

Last summer, Jones told UH officials that he would not negotiate a contract extension between the start and end of the recently completed season.

Frazier said the Board of Regents did not approve a measure to increase the ceiling for the head coach's salary until last July, not leaving him enough time to assemble an offer by Jones' deadline.

Frazier confirmed he did not have contract talks with Steinberg during the 2007 regular season.

In an e-mail to Frazier on Christmas Eve, Jones requested permission for Steinberg to listen to offers from other suitors. Frazier gave his blessing.

In an e-mail to Frazier on Dec. 26, Steinberg wrote that he was contacted by a school with a "time-sensitive situation." That school, it turned out, was SMU.

On Thursday, SMU asked Frazier for permission to interview Jones. Frazier gave his approval.

That night, Frazier, UH president David McClain and Manoa chancellor Virginia Hinshaw offered Jones a contract of about $1.1 million a year.

The next day, the UH trio told Jones they would make a second offer, even before hearing a response to the first proposal.

That second offer, according to Jones' friends, was close to $1.7 million annually.

But the second offer did not include any provisions promising improvement to facilities or added resources for the football program.

Frazier said his main focus was to make an initial financial offer, then work on the other concerns in future discussions.

Frazier said if Jones were to leave, he would release him from the final six months of his UH contract.

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.