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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 16, 2008

He brings staying power

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

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To see Greg McMackin's deeply furrowed features after his first game as an assistant football coach at the University of Hawai'i was to glimpse a man with "Oh, my gosh, what have I gotten myself into" written all over them.

If it wasn't exactly panic, it was definitely in the vicinity for McMackin, who was the defensive coordinator in June Jones' first season at UH, a 1999 campaign that opened with a 62-7 loss to Southern California.

But McMackin picked up his game, the Warriors picked up theirs and the result was a major contribution to UH going 9-4 in the greatest single-season turnaround in NCAA history.

Soon after the season McMackin left for Texas Tech and greener pastures, hardly a surprise in an itinerant career that has seen him coach at 12 schools and three pro teams, rarely stopping for more than three years at any of them.

Which is why the fact that he stuck around at UH this time, in the face of all that went down since the Sugar Bowl, might be the most encouraging thing the Warriors have going for them.

For all the "Believe!" signs of the season just past, here's a living, breathing one for the present — and future.

Had McMackin high-tailed it to Dallas along with Jones and some of the others, it would have been a particularly damning loss. Not just of a coach, but of a face for the program at a time when appearances are everything.

If the top assistant —which is what McMackin was in 2007 — split under such circumstances, the handwriting would have been plainly visible. Neon script that would have said: Disaster area, beware.

If the leading assistant didn't stick around to contend for the top job, then why should a prospective recruit commit?

McMackin's U-turn after first contemplating following Jones to SMU suggested that not only did someone who has spent the last 17 years as an assistant want a head coaching job, but that he valued the equity in this program enough to stay and compete for this one.

He's seen enough of the inside of UH over his stay to have kicked the tires several times over. He's been around enough to know what UH lacks and, more important, what it still has going for it.

If that 1999 season was a challenge, in some ways this is its equal. For coming off an NCAA futility-record-tying 0-12 season of 1998, the expectations weren't just low, they were subterranean.

But taking the reins following a 12-1 Bowl Championship Series campaign takes guts. Especially with the schedule — Florida, Oregon State, Boise State and Fresno State — on the road at Washington State and Cincinnati here. Under the circumstances, a 7-5 record in 2008 would be cause for celebration, not that many might see it that way now.

A lot of people got their first clue about Jones' eventual departure when he teed off on Tim Tebow and Florida. Well, that's where McMackin gets to open in just over seven months.

The fact that McMackin wanted to lead the Warriors there says a lot at a time when UH needed to hear it.

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

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