Will Jones' return rekindle aloha?
By Ferd Lewis
For June Jones, Thursday's appearance in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl will be a triumphant return to Aloha Stadium.
For his Southern Methodist team, it will be a milestone accomplishment.
For a bowl game looking for a draw in the home team's absence, it figures to be a boost.
But for University of Hawai'i football fans, it will be, like several things that have surrounded their former head coach over the years, a little complicated.
On one hand the Christmas Eve game should be the welcoming back of an old friend, someone who spent 12 seasons over parts of four decades at UH as a player, assistant coach and head coach while helping take the program to some of its most celebrated triumphs.
But unlike Dick Tomey's warmly received, unfettered 1990 Aloha Bowl return with Arizona four seasons after his departure from UH, Jones' return comes with considerably more baggage and emotion.
Jones' exit in 2008, just days after the Sugar Bowl blowout for a more lucrative contract, made for a controversial parting. That UH hasn't had a winning season since, going 13-14 overall, hasn't made it any easier for the wounds to heal. Along with changing nicknames, uniforms, logos and music, Jones also altered expectations at UH.
So when it looked, right up until the Warriors' Dec. 5 regular-season finale against Wisconsin, that it might be a UH vs. Jones matchup in the Hawai'i Bowl, a lot of fans relished the prospect of payback, the more lopsided the better. As one noted in an e-mail, "it would just be sweet if (the Warriors) could get into that bowl game against Jones and really kick some (butt)."
Now, absent UH, some still want that retribution, even if it would be WAC rival Nevada attempting the kicking.
Never mind that this all ignores the fact Jones spent nine seasons as head coach here, more than double the national average tenure for the position. Or that, after delivering the biggest turnaround in NCAA history, he left the program immensely better than the wreck he inherited.
Then there is the matter of the way UH, particularly the former athletic director, dropped the ball on Jones' contract renewal and infrastructure concerns that might have otherwise kept the school's most accomplished coach (76-41) here or lightened the load for his successor.
Now here comes Jones at the holidays with a pointed reminder of UH's shortcomings by delivering SMU to its first bowl in 25 years. A return made all the more jarring by his doing it in Mustang red and blue.
With Jones it was never easy, even now.