Paradise's loss

The Baltimore Sun

Hawaii failed in its bid to keep football coach June Jones, who was successfully wooed by SMU with an offer of about $2 million a year for five years.

Hawaii reportedly was offering $1.3 million for five years with a $1 million bonus if Jones stayed the entire time. The school was also committing to putting more resources into football, including upgrading the facilities.

Apparently that was a major concern for the run-and-shoot coach, who took over a program that was winless the season before he arrived in 1999.

SMU has never recovered from the NCAA "death penalty" it received in the late 1980s. The Mustangs haven't been to a bowl since 1984 and finished 1-11 this season. SMU has been on a coaching search for more than two months and is counting on Jones' luster and turnaround artistry - in his first year with the Warriors, his team went 9-4 after an 0-12 season - to do in Texas what he did in Hawaii.

According to Jones' agent, Leigh Steinberg, it was an emotional decision for Jones and one that no one can believe was made entirely because of the difference in salary.

Hawaii did its own damage here. For one thing, the university didn't even begin to address the renewal of Jones' contract (it ends June 30) until after Hawaii's Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

In addition to the university's ignoring Jones' personal situation until the 11th hour was the fact that, through the nine years Jones worked there, Hawaii reportedly failed to satisfactorily upgrade the facilities as the program's stature grew. Then, as Jones was on the verge of leaving Hawaii, the state tried to rally, expressing how much Jones and his program meant to the islands.

All that was true. Jones was an enormous presence in Hawaii. He was a successful coach and embraced the Hawaiian culture and somehow braided its sense of extended family into the football program. His roster was full of local kids, probably too small and too slow for major football programs elsewhere. But they consistently won for Jones, who finished 76-41 with the Warriors and took his teams to six bowl games.

It isn't just a successful program he created. It is a successful program that is distinctly Hawaiian.

But all the entreaties, all the new promises were too little, too late.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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