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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 4, 2009

We're stuck with McMackin's million

By David Shapiro

In addition to the passing marks set by Tim Chang and Colt Brennan, there's another football record the University of Hawaii likely holds: biggest pay raise for a coach.

Last January, when June Jones abruptly left for SMU after leading UH to a 12-0 regular season and a trip to the Sugar Bowl, the UH brass quickly handed the head coaching job to Jones' defensive coordinator Greg McMackin.

Their reasoning that speedy action was needed to stifle the community uproar and assure continuity for the program made some sense, but what didn't was the decision to pay McMackin $1.1 million, far more than the $800,000 Jones was receiving.

McMackin, a career assistant untested as a Division I head coach, made only $110,000 as a UH assistant the year before and would have felt like his lotto numbers had come up if he'd been offered Jones' old salary.

But UH officials were smarting from Jones' insinuations that they were cheap and were itching to throw $1 million at somebody — anybody.

Flash forward 21 months and the UH Warriors are 2-6 (0-5 in the WAC) and suffering their longest losing streak since Fred von Appen. Predictably, cries are starting to be heard for McMackin's firing.

Forget about it.

UH football is the least of our problems in these grim times. With record budget deficits and unresolved labor issues, the state in general and UH in particular have far more important concerns than an expensive fight over who coaches the football team.

In addition to McMackin's stratospheric salary, the UH brain trust led by Mänoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw gave him a five-year contract that, as Ferd Lewis pointed out last week, provides no buyout other than paying off the whole thing.

So we cross our fingers, wish him luck and live with it, remembering that this was going to be a rebuilding period for UH football no matter who the coach was.

Jones was lured away by a $2 million salary and cushy facilities at SMU that UH never could match, but there were also the daunting expectations if he stayed of more BCS bowl trips without the horses that carried him there.

The Heisman candidate Brennan was gone along with his speedy receivers, and top defenders were about to graduate.

McMackin did pretty well in his first year to post a 7-7 record and take the Warriors to the made-for-Hawaii Bowl against Notre Dame. This year, he had UH off to a 2-0 start before season-ending injuries hit quarterback Greg Alexander and other key players.

With a string of home games coming up, maybe the Warriors will pull together and set a positive tone going into next season. Perhaps local product Bryant Moniz with his great walk-on story can generate some excitement at quarterback.

Either way, let's take a lesson about hiring practices at the University of Hawaii.

You don't usually get to the top by throwing top dollar at lifelong assistants on the back nine of their careers who didn't impress previous employers that they were No. 1 material. This is exactly what UH has done on key recent hires from football coach to university president.

Surely the money paid McMackin could have attracted somebody with head coaching experience and a proven record of winning at the Division I level.

Or perhaps we should follow the model of Boise State, which dominates the WAC with fewer resources than UH with an astute eye for hiring top young talent on the way up — like current coach Chris Peterson ($900,000), who was waiting in the wings to take over when another coach Boise hired as a young talent, Dan Hawkins, moved up to Colorado.