Hawaii looks to follow up on a historic season with a new quarterback and coach. The man in charge may be just the one for the job
BY JASON KANESHIRO
Greg McMackin is no stranger to change. In fact, the two are probably pretty good buddies by now.
Close to four decades in the coaching business have taken McMackin from one coast to another, making stops in 10 states while never spending more than five years in any one spot.
He packed and unpacked at 10 colleges, coached with two NFL teams and even spent a year in the USFL.
This latest move, though, may be a little different.
Rather than having to box up his belongings yet again, McMackin’s latest change essentially came to him and the career assistant enters his first venture as a Division I head coach with the long term in mind.
“This is the most fun adjustment I’ve had,” said McMackin, who’s made it known he intends for his post leading the Warriors to be his last job.
“It’s our favorite place to be and favorite people to be around. The most special coaching experiences of my life have been 1999 and last year. We’re where we want to be, I’ve moved my whole family over here, all of our animals. We jumped in all the way. We’re all in.”
McMackin had served two separate stints at UH, the defensive coordinator in both UH’s turnaround season of 1999 and last year’s perfect regular-season run and Bowl Championship Series berth.
Then came the January whirlwind that reshaped the Hawaii athletic department and created McMackin’s opportunity to lead.
Hawaii’s Sugar Bowl high preceded a stunning crash when June Jones bolted for Southern Methodist and athletic director Herman Frazier was fired soon after.
It initially appeared McMackin would again be on the move to accompany Jones to Texas. Instead, he pursued and was granted the task of taking over the department’s flagship team, giving him yet another change to embrace.
“That’s what you have to do. Life is a series of adjustments and football is a series of adjustments,” he said. “You have to adjust and adapt.”
The transition game
Among McMackin’s first acts was to retain the assistants who didn’t follow Jones to SMU, including one who’s been a fixture in Manoa for 36 years and knows something about changing times.
George Lumpkin was around when the program moved from Honolulu Stadium to Aloha Stadium, gained membership into the WAC (which has undergone a slew of transformations of its own), and is now working for his sixth head coach (Dave Holmes, Larry Price, Dick Tomey, Bob Wagner and Jones were the others).
“I don’t believe I’ve been through all of that,” Lumpkin said. “I don’t feel like I’ve been through all those changes. I feel like I just got here for four or five years.
“Everybody has different approaches and different personalities,” he said of his bosses past and present. “The good thing about all of them is they require guys to work hard, they’re technicians, they want guys to do things correctly. … When you’ve been around that people that win there are characteristics that are the same.”
While McMackin is keeping the schemes on both sides of the ball, the latest change in leadership comes with a new look for the team, a shift in emphasis, and new faces in prominent roles both on the field and on the sidelines. All with a highly challenging schedule awaiting.
New challenges ahead
McMackin’s ascent coincides with a veteran Warriors defense emerging as the new face of the program while the offense braces for some growing pains.
McMackin will continue to lead the defense and has a deep and experienced crew to work with.
The pass-oriented run-and-shoot offense remains, but with Ron Lee, receivers coach for the last nine years, now calling the plays as offensive coordinator. Fall camp opened with open competitions at several key positions vacated by prolific seniors, including the quarterback spot occupied by Heisman Trophy finalist Colt Brennan the last three years.
The fluffy schedule of a year ago is also a memory, replaced by a slate highlighted by road games against No. 5 Florida, Oregon State and WAC favorites Fresno State and Boise State.
All of which makes McMackin’s latest transition challenging to say the least. But he’ll embark on the next leg of his journey seasoned by the changes marking his path from Arizona graduate assistant in 1968 to Hawaii head coach in 2008.
“I’ve practiced for this job all my life,” McMackin said. “I’ve been a defensive coordinator for a lot of the time and the (head coaches) I’ve worked with were always offensive coaches. So I was sort of a head coach for the defense.
“Now, instead of having 50 guys, I have 100 guys.”