The regular season had gone fairly well, but once that final game was played, things went south very quickly for Hawaii’s football program. The Warriors improved to 6-7 after winning 38-14 at Wyoming in their regular-season finale. There were a few bonuses for the win.
First off, Hawaii won the Paniolo Trophy, presented to the winner of this game. In addition to bringing home the trophy, which is 12 inches high and 20 inches long mounted on a loping slab of walnut, the Warriors eventually earned a bowl bid. Hawaii became the only sub-.500 team to earn a bowl bid, but what the heck, it’s still an extra game, or so everybody thought.
The Warriors were picked to play in, surprise, the Hawaii Bowl, hosting Memphis. Since 2002, Hawaii has earned 12 bowl bids and 10 have been to the Hawaii Bowl, including last year.
Yet weeks after the bowl bid was secured, things began unraveling quickly for Hawaii’s football program.
On Dec. 23, the Hawaii Bowl game was canceled, one day before the Christmas Eve kickoff. Hawaii announced that due to COVID issues within the program along with season-ending injuries and transfers, it would not be able to participate in the game.
Memphis had been in Hawaii for several days preparing for the game when the news broke. While obviously disappointed, there could have been worse places for the Tigers to be in late December.
The news kept getting worse for Hawaii as players continued a steady succession into the transfer portal. There were then public complaints about coach Todd Graham that even became the topic of a state senate meeting. Among the allegations was verbal abuse.
Citing health issues, Graham resigned.
The Warriors finally generated some favorable publicity when they hired favorite son Timmy Chang as their head coach on Jan. 22. Chang is a revered quarterbacking legend at Hawaii, who played there from 2000-2004. He threw for 17,072 career yards, which at the time was an NCAA record, and is currently second to Case Keenum who threw for 19,217 at Houston when his final season was 2011. In addition, Chang threw for 117 career touchdown passes
Chang was the wide receiver and tight end coach at Nevada for the previous five years. He followed coach Jay Norvell to Colorado State after the season but was there about a month before being hired by Hawaii.
Needless to say, Chang was a popular hire, but it didn’t move the needle for the preseason prognostications. Hawaii was picked to finish sixth and last place in the West Division of the Mountain West preseason poll. So there is a lot of work to do for Chang, whose Hawaii team hosts Vanderbilt in Saturday’s opener.
Chang’s biggest task will be getting the defense up to snuff without eight of last year’s top 10 returning tacklers. Linebackers Penei Pavihi and Isaiah Tufaga, who had 45 and 35 tackles respectively, are among the returning defensive leaders.
There are more positives on offense, beginning with a line that, according to Hawaii, it is third nationally in the number of combined starts among its returnees with 109. Leading the way is senior left tackle Ilm Manning (6-4, 295), an honorable mention all-Mountain West selection last season.
Six players were battling for the quarterback job and the team website listed sophomore Brayden Schager as the top candidate for the job. Whoever is at quarterback, rest assured it will be a passer-friendly offense under Chang.
In fact, regardless of how the Warriors fare this year, Chang should bring a positive vibe to the program, the type that emanated when he was among the best and most popular players in school history.