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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Potent offense had quiet leader

By Ferd Lewis

For all the explosiveness of some of his offenses, football coach Ron Lee's public persona has for decades been the quiet and understated opposite.

Even when his units were putting up big scores at Kaiser High, Saint Louis School and the University of Hawai'i, Lee avoided the limelight like a third-and-long situation. "Talk to the kids," he'd invariably say, "they made all the plays."

So, maybe we shouldn't be surprised that his departure from UH after 11 years came with a make-no-waves grace to it.

But, if we want to see the total picture, look at not only what is being said but what isn't.

Yesterday, Lee said many of the requisite things: "It is the right time to go. ... It was a hard decision to make. ... I'll miss these (players) a lot; I've been with them, four, five years. ... Change can be good. ..."

For his part, head coach Greg McMackin lauded Lee as, "a great person" and "a legend in Hawai'i."

But, between the lines, note that the 66-year-old Lee is resigning, not stepping into retirement. Understand that he says he plans to coach again, apparently this season. Possibly on the college level.

Lee was one of the first assistants June Jones signed on in 1998 and his departure comes as the last remaining offensive member of that coaching staff. Until a few months ago, it seemed as though Lee would remain in Mānoa as long as the run-and-shoot was still firing footballs. And, indeed, there was a lot to look forward to in the senior year of Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares.

Even when McMackin shifted play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Nick Rolovich after a rocky 2009 opener, Lee characteristically sought to take the edge off, saying how it would free him up to work more with the receivers.

At the time, McMackin declared Lee was "still my offensive coordinator." But before spring practice rolled around, Rolovich had the title and the pay. Not long after, Lee served notice he would be leaving.

Lee said the shifting of titles and pay had little to do with his departure. And, to a point, friends will tell you, that's probably true.

There occurred, they suggest, a fraying of a long-running professional relationship. More than 20 years ago, McMackin, as head coach, and Lee, as his offensive coordinator, teamed up for a record-setting stint at Oregon Tech.

When Jones left UH for Southern Methodist after the Sugar Bowl in 2008, Lee and his brother, Cal, not only encouraged McMackin to stick around and pursue the head coaching job, they helped bang the drum for him around campus and in the community.

Yesterday everybody sang the right words, but the harmony wasn't the same.