Coaching transition proves turbulent for Hawaii football team

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Jan. 23—The University of Hawaii could face legal action because of the way it handled employment negotiations with football head coach applicant June Jones, attorney Michael Green said Saturday.

Timmy Chang, a star quarterback who played at UH from 2000 to 2004, when Jones was coach, was announced Saturday as UH's new coach, replacing Todd Graham, who resigned under fire Jan. 14.

Jones, the winningest coach in UH's Division I history, rejected conditions proposed by UH athletic director David Matlin during a job interview Friday. Those conditions included an unusual two-year contract and more university control of assistant coach hires than customary.

This led to speculation that the school could be sued for age discrimination. Jones is 68.

"That would never work, " Green said. "But what (UH ) has done is all pretextual. There are laws against that."

According to uslegal.com : "Pretext generally refers to a reason for an action which is false, and offered to cover up true motives or intentions. It is a concept sometimes brought up in the context of employment discrimination."

Green said Jones was "set up " by UH.

"They made sure he couldn't accept it. This is horrible. They know he can't recruit a winning team in two years, " Green said. "Are they giving anyone else the same restrictions as June Jones ?"

Chang, 40, agreed to a four-year contract, with a possible fifth.—RELATED :

Green said he is representing a client in a case against UH with a claim of pretext preventing the client from receiving a promotion. "It's retaliation, " Green said.

Green blasted Graham in a state Senate informational briefing this month that helped lead to Graham's resignation.

One of the senators leading that hearing, Ways and Means chairman Donovan Dela Cruz, said the handling of Jones' interview reinforces his earlier statement that the UH Board of Regents should thoroughly investigate the athletic department to find "what needs to be fixed and changed, to ensure community support in the long run."

Dela Cruz said that a selection committee to hire the new football coach would have been "a lot more fair " than Matlin choosing the coach with input from an anonymous advisory committee to assist in vetting candidates.

"It almost seems reactionary instead of strategic and thoughtful and transparent, " Dela Cruz said. "You want some (public ) accountability in the process."

At noon Saturday, several hours before Chang was announced, UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl alternately praised and blasted Jones and voiced unmitigated support for Matlin in a press conference that was live-streamed.

He called Jones "the greatest football coach in UH history, " but also said that "work history matters, " a reference to his leaving UH after the 2007 season. He later said that Jones "showed zero integrity, " by leaving Friday's job interview after about a half-hour, and publicly complaining about the conditions of the offer.

Meisenzahl brought up specific examples of Jones fighting UH on his buyout for a year when he took the SMU job in 2008 ; Arizona State withdrawing its offer to Jones for the head coaching job in 2012 at the last minute "reportedly on character concerns " and then Jones leaving SMU in 2014 after an 0-2 start.

"Coach Jones left in 2008, and it was a different time back then and though there were records (of ) success on the field, there were also concerns with priorities and student-athletes and acting as a de facto athletic director and chancellor, " Meisenzahl said. "He often demonstrated little interest in being accountable to his supervisor."

UH was not happy with Jones' public pursuit of the job. In Friday's meeting, UH said the contract offer was increased from two to three years and it was just the beginning of a negotiation.

Jones said on social media Friday that he was offered a two-year contract and would not have final say over choosing his assistant coaches.

Meisenzahl added that the university is in full support of Matlin and the job he has done over the past seven years. He acknowledged that Matlin knows the hiring of former coach Todd Graham was a "mistake."

Matlin did not make an appearance in the meeting.

Meisenzahl fielded questions and forwarded some to Matlin. As of Saturday night, the Star-Advertiser had not received a response to questions about longtime UH assistant coach Rich Miano, whom Jones wanted on his staff. Sources said Miano was not approved by Matlin, and that was another reason Jones did not accept UH's job offer.

Board of Regents chair Randolph Moore attended the Zoom press conference but did not answer questions. Later, via email, Moore clarified the BOR's role in coach hirings by stating that "as a body (it ) does not have a role in selection of coaches." Moore did not answer a question on the same email asking if any regents advised Matlin regarding hiring Jones.

Reaction from UH fans on social media Saturday continued to be angry at UH—and supportive of Jones, as it has been since he announced his interest in the job a week ago.

"Who the hell would want to come play here now ? Who in their right mind would want to go to the games now ? If the hearing wasn't bad enough, " said Annie Deweese of Hawaii Kai. "This is horrible for not only UH's image but the entire state. ... UH had a golden opportunity to make things right, and they blew it."

Justin Parker tried to maintain some shred of hope.

"Nothing is beyond repair, " the longtime fan from Oahu said. "But short-term is definitely looking (like ) a continuation of a dysfunctional trend."

Greg Walker, a retired Leeward Community College professor and former football season-ticket holder, tweeted about UH bringing up Jones' being knocked out of the running for a job at Arizona State in 2011 that Graham ended up getting.

"ASU didn't hire June Jones based on character, so ASU hired & fired Todd Graham based on his character. Then UH hired & fired (sic ) Graham based on his character & now UH is questioning June Jones's character based on ASU questioning his character ? Character confusion, " Walker wrote.

Andrew Icarangal, who was born and raised in Pearl City and now lives near Las Vegas, said he has lost his passion for UH football.

"Ridiculous. Mahalo for making UH football irrelevant and unwatchable again, Matlin, " he posted. "Won't root against them, but won't root for them either. Sorry, Timmy, but the optics are that you will be the unqualified and second-choice of a program desperately in need of a savior."

Chang was not without support, though.

"Timmy is the product of Hawaii coaching legends Cal Lee and June Jones, " his teammate at UH, Keani Alapa, said via text. "He is a member of the new generation of Hawaii-born coaches taking the country by storm. We need to unite and build our beloved program and Timmy has the passion and love for the state and school to get the job done."—For more Hawaii football, visit the.

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