McMackin has big shoes to fill at Hawaii |

McMackin has big shoes to fill at Hawaii

This is the fouth in a series of articles previewing Western Athletic Conference football teams. Today, the Appeal takes a look at the University of Hawaii.


Appeal Sports Writer

A member of the Hawaii sports information staff told new coach Greg McMackin that he almost ran out of space when he listed the new coach’s past jobs.

It was no joke.

McMackin, who was hired as Hawaii’s 21st head coach back in January after June Jones left for SMU, is starting his 40th year of coaching. He has coached at the high school, college and professional level, almost all of those years as an assistant. He brings with him a wealth of knowledge and plenty of fans in the coaching fraternity.

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“He is one my closest friends,” said Dennis Erickson, the Arizona State head coach, in the UH media guide. “He has worked for me at a number of places (49ers, Seahawks and University of Miami). Hawaii is fortunate to have him. He really deserves this opportunity. We always had one of the top defenses at Miami.”

McMackin does have some big shoes to fill. The Warriors, who finished the season ranked 17th, are coming off a Western Athletic Conference championship and a Sugar Bowl appearance with Jones at the helm. Hawaii broke Bosie State’s five-year run as conference champions in 2007.

“June Jones can never be replaced,” McMackin said. “He has done so many great things for the university, and his legacy will never be forgotten. My destiny is to keep the program headed in the same direction, and to maintain the continuity with our current players and recruiting base.”

McMackin’s forte is defense, and Hawaii should be strong on the side of the ball again. A year ago, Hawaii ranked 34th nationally and second in the WAC.

The unit returns five starters and 10 players who saw significant action ” defensive tackle Fale Laeli (6-1, 290), defensive linemen Keala Watson (6-3, 300), Dave Veikune (6-3, 250) and John Fonoti (6-3, 250), linebackers Adam Leonard (6-0, 235), Blaze Soares (6-1, 240) and Solomon Elimimian (6-0, 225), the WAC Preseason Player of the Year, and defensive backs Keao Monteilh (5-11, 195), Desmond Thomas (6-3, 175) and cornerback Ryan Mouton (5-10, 180),

Veikune led the team in sacks with seven, while Fonotti recorded three sacks and forced two fumbles. Elimimian had 141 tackles and Leonard 105 plus four interceptions, and they are arguably the best 1-2 punch in the conference if not the entire West Coast.

“I’m excited about the defense,” McMackin said. “We played a lot of guys (on defense) last year. We have five defensive tackles. We want to have enough guys that we can rotate people in and out and stay fresh.

“Solomon can run from side to side. He’s an excellent tackler, one of the top 10 in the country. He could play inside or outside. Adam had an outstanding season. He’s one of the best in the league. He has a real feel for the passing game.”

With McMackin being elevated to head coach, Cal Lee, the former linebacker coach, takes over as coordinator.

Jameel Dowling (6-3, 205) replaces Gerald Lewis at cornerback. Dowling played 11 gams for Oregon in 2006. McMackin said that Dowling could be a big-time corner.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had so many quality, veteran, experienced players back,” said Lee in a preseason release. “Is there added pressure with that? There is always pressure. We have to rise to the top and our players thrive on that pressure.”

McMackin indicated that the Warriors will stay with the run and shoot offense, though McMackin indicated the Warriors will run the ball more and have their quarterback under center at times.

“You can’t defend it,” McMackin said of the Warriors’ offense. “We ran it when I was with Mouse (Davis) in the USFL. I’ve worked with some of the best offensive minds in June, Mouse and Dennis. We’re going to throw to set up the run. Two years ago, we ran it pretty well.”

The high-flying offense has plenty of holes to fill. Gone is quarterback Colt Brennan, who set 31 NCAA records and passed for 14,193 yards. Also gone are his four top receivers ” Jason Rivers (3,919 career receiving yards), Davone Bess (3 1,000-yard seasons), Ryan Grice-Mullen (96 career TDs) and C.J. Hawthorne (859 yards last season). Linemen Hercules Satele, an All-American, and Larry Sauafea have used up their eligibility.

The quarterback job is up for grabs between Tyler Graunke, last year’s No. 2 behind Colt Brennan. He threw for 1,234 yards and 10 touchdowns, and led the Warriors past Nevada. Inoke Funaki, who actually had the lead out of spring ball, threw for 136 yards in five games.

The top running backs all return ” Leon Wright-Jackson (219 yards, 2 TDs, 146 yards receiving) and David Farmer (41 rushing yards, 95 receiving yards).

Malcolm Lane (14-270-2) and Michael Washington (3-51-1) saw time last year at wide receiver. Kealoha Pilares (388 yards, 3 TDs rushing, 249 yards receiving) moves to slotback after playing running back last year. Aaron Bain, Greg Salas, who played in eight games last year, and JC transfers Dustin Blount and Jovonte Taylor will compete to get into the rotation.

Keith AhSoon (6-1, 315), John Estes (6-2, 290) and Keoni Steinhoff (6-3, 280) all started on the offensive front. AhSoon moves to left guard while Steinhoffa and Estes will stay at tackle and center, respectively. Lafu Tuioti-Mariner (6-0, 285) figures to start at right guard, while Aaron Kia (6-5, 300), who played nine games last season, likely will start at left tackle.

The specialists ” punter Tim Grasso and place-kicker Dan Kelly are back. Grasso averaged 39.7 a year ago, including 10 kicks inside the opponents’ 20. Kelly, who beat Nevada with a field goal, was 12-for-17 on field-goal attempts.

-Contact Darrell Moody at, or by calling (775) 881-1281