Hawaii coach keeping up with Jones

The idea of trying to follow June Jones at Hawaii, especially after his masterpiece 2007 season, would have been daunting for just about any football coach.

For an outsider unfamiliar with the cultural rhythms of the Hawaiian Islands and the one-of-a-kind program that is Warriors football, being next in line would have been an almost impossible task.

Greg McMackin already was on the coaching staff, and though he was the defensive coordinator on that Sugar Bowl team three years ago, he believed in Jones' beloved and scary-good run-and-shoot offense that took the Warriors all the way to New Orleans.

"I think it's probably as important as anything else," Jones said of McMackin's Hawaii experience. "It's a unique place."

But even for an insider, trying to keep the program where Jones left it wasn't easy, with the Warriors going a combined 13-14 in McMackin's first two seasons. Now, though, he apparently has them back on track.

Hawaii is 9-3 and ranked No. 25 entering Saturday's 7:30 p.m. PST game against visiting UNLV (2-10). The Warriors handed No. 14 UNR its only loss, winning 27-21 on Oct. 16.

Behind junior quarterback Bryant Moniz and senior wide receiver Greg Salas, Hawaii averages a nation-leading 384.8 yards passing per game and is 10th in total offense (487.8-yard average) and 12th in scoring (38.3-point average). The Warriors have scored 40 or more points seven times, including four of the past five games.

Perhaps McMackin's key offseason move was coaxing out of retirement Mouse Davis, who made the run-and-shoot famous. Both trace their origins with that offense as well as their relationship with each other to the early 1970s when they were high school coaches in Oregon.

"Hiring Mouse back this year was a big deal," Jones said of the Warriors' receivers coach.

Jones also is closely tied with the run-and-shoot, and it was largely through that offense he turned Hawaii into a national power. He took a program that went 0-12 in 1998 and in his first season led the Warriors to a 9-4 record and a first-place tie in the Western Athletic Conference.

Jones went 76-41 with six bowl appearances in nine seasons. Now in his third season at once-downtrodden Southern Methodist, Jones is preparing for Saturday's Conference USA championship game against Central Florida.

But when Jones left for Dallas, he didn't leave much behind in Honolulu. Star quarterback Colt Brennan was one of nine starters who had to be replaced in the first season, and all 11 defensive starters were gone by the second year.

"So we're getting back where we're getting our numbers up, and we're going in the right direction," McMackin said.

McMackin's challenge is to build upon the success he has established this season. Jones not only took the Warriors in the right direction the first time, he kept them there.

"It's a tough act to follow," McMackin said.

Following Jones would have been difficult for just about any coach. Nearly impossible for an outsider.

McMackin had served as the Warriors' defensive coordinator twice, including during that wondrous Bowl Championship Series run.

He knew the program. He felt the aloha spirit from Honolulu to Hana to Hilo.

He still does.

"It was a great advantage being there, knowing the players, knowing what's going on," McMackin said. "I think the chancellor (Virginia Hinshaw) was really smart in making it happen soon because we had three weeks to recruit, and we got a pretty good recruiting class in that first class.

"I was blessed to be put in that position, but my background there helped, knowing the culture and the people and liking the people here. It's beautiful here, but the people of Hawaii are the special thing about Hawaii."

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914.