Akina hooked on Texas football
By Ferd Lewis
After 14 years as an assistant football coach at the University of Arizona, Duane Akina said he had decided it was going to take "something big" to lure him away from the Wildcats.
Then, something did: the University of Texas called.
And, like they say, "everything is bigger in Texas" including the stage the Longhorns play on. Games, for example, like today's Bowl Championship Series national title showdown in the Rose Bowl, where Texas plays Alabama.
"These are the kind of games you want to be involved in," said Akina who, as the Longhorns' associate head coach, handles the defensive secondary. "These are the kind of games I thought about when I thought about Texas. It is why you like to coach at this level."
And, Akina hasn't been disappointed. This is the second BCS national title game in five years — both in the Rose Bowl — for the former Punahou School quarterback. Throw in a nontitle Rose Bowl, a Fiesta, Cotton and a few others and it has been quite an eight-season ride with the Longhorns.
Along the way, the 53-year-old Akina has done his part, especially this year with a mostly sophomore starting secondary in the pass-happy Big 12. Overall, he's groomed back-to-back Jim Thorpe Award winners, nine first-team All-Big 12 performers and seven NFL draft picks.
Akina followed Dick Tomey to Arizona from Hawai'i in 1987 and said he saw himself staying in Tucson through the high school graduations of the last of his five children. Proof of which was he turned down job offers to join Bill Belichick and Nick Saban with the Cleveland Browns in the 1990s.
But, then, as the Wildcats' defensive coordinator in 2001, Texas called and Akina said, "Because it was Texas, it was something I had to take a look at."
When the Longhorns flew his family to Austin to look things over and got their approval, it helped seal the deal.
The return to Pasadena, Calif., site of the Rose Bowl, brings Akina's career full circle, again. He played there in 1978 as a senior for the University of Washington, made it back in 1981 as a graduate assistant coach for the Huskies. "I've been lucky," Akina said, "a lot of people never get here (once) in their careers."
In (1978) Akina was Warren Moon's backup at quarterback in a 27-20 Rose Bowl win over Michigan. "Warren went the whole way and I swear the coaches said to each other, 'let's chain Akina to the bench so we don't screw this thing up,' " Akina said. "But I got in on special teams."
Today, he's back again and this time nobody is suggesting he stay out of the way.