OK, OK. We feel your pain. Your neighbor stole your newspaper. This is a holiday and you can’t read the paper at the office. You can’t log on because your spouse is signed on to the Star-Advertiser site. We sat down with Rolo last week, and this is what he shared in today’s Star-Advertiser.
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The University of Hawaii football team broke even in 2016 and added the Hawaii Bowl trophy to its collection, but Nick Rolovich was hardly satisfied with his first season as head coach.
“I think the 7-7 (record), the bowl win, that was a big step, but that’s nowhere near where we want to be consistently,” Rolovich said. “I’m not going to sit back and say 7-7, with a bowl win, is OK.”
Rolovich was particularly peeved at the loss against UNLV before 28,729 fans, the most for a home game this season. The Rainbow Warriors averaged 18,948 for the final three regular-season home games.
“We had a great crowd there, and we let them get away,” Rolovich said. “However you want to play it, we lost the game at a critical moment (in the season), when we had the heartbeat of the island in Aloha Stadium, and it got away from us. That’s disappointing, because it is about the players and the wins and losses, but it’s also about the community coming together. And that’s proven to be harder than I thought it would be.”
Rolovich said he will spend the next couple of weeks evaluating the program.
“I’ll look at everybody’s performance,” Rolovich said. “Video, SID (sports information director), trainers, doctors, academics, Na Koa, position coaches, GAs (graduate assistants), facilities and the weight room all have to be evaluated, and honestly. I like a lot of people, but this is about Hawaii football. If they can get better, I want it to get better.”
He also plans to binge-watch the 2016 telecasts of UH games.
“I’m going to go through and watch the whole season on TV and see how I’m perceived or how I’m being portrayed and how I’m acting,” Rolovich said. “On the game film, you don’t see any of that. And I don’t have time to watch the TV game during the year. The same thing for the coach’s show. I want to go through and critique that. I watched the first couple of those, but I have about 15 of them taped, and I’ll start watching those and see how I can do better in those areas, too.”
Even during this dead period in recruiting – the “silly season,” in football parlance — Rolovich was in his office at dawn. He took time to chat with the Star-Advertiser.
Offensive play calling
Rolovich was an offensive coordinator at UH and then Nevada before being hired as the Warriors’ head coach. Last spring, Rolovich named run-game coordinator Brian Smith as the offensive coordinator.
“If I had taken the offense this year, we would not have been as good because of how many times I got pulled away,” Rolovich said. “I had a feeling that would happen. We don’t have the 100-person staff that can do all the other stuff. There’s stuff in the Group of Five, or whatever you want to call it, where the head coach has to take on a greater role. That doesn’t bother me. That’s just the reality.”
Delegation comes slowly
Rolovich said he is learning to delegate.
“Just being a year into it, I was always ready for the next thing to really jump on,” Rolovich said. “Now I feel I can prioritize better and just take a step back. Jason (Cvercko, the director of recruiting and retention) and Lois (Manin, director of operations) have been in their jobs a year and can take care of a lot of things.
Something Eric (Okasaki, the head trainer) and Al (Ginoza, the equipment manager) told me: ‘You can’t do everything. You can’t be involved in everything. You’ve got to trust people to take care of things.’ Maybe I had a hand in everything, but I wanted a hand in everything. It’s organizing and prioritizing a little better.”
Learning to say no
He said he probably will alter his approach.
“Too hesitant at times, too wishy-washy at times,” Rolovich said of the past year. “Part of that is just me, maybe, talking out loud and bouncing the ball back and forth. … I think I need to say no to more people, and I plan on it. But I want people to be able to talk to me honestly.”
Bowl win not enough
Rolovich insisted the Warriors can’t rest on their 52-35 victory in the Hawaii Bowl.
“The numbers are the numbers,” Rolovich said. “When you’re 100th in the nation in certain categories, that’s not good enough. Now the bowl victory was great for Hawaii. It was great for this team. But this season needs to be judged from top to bottom, not on the last game. … I count them all. You have to look at every snap, every detail and preparation. I think there’s more than enough for us to do better next year.
“I’d like to see us be better on third down on both sides of the ball. I would not like to be in the negative turnover for the season as a team. I’m glad we got a defensive touchdown the last game, but it’s OK if they score more. (Defensive players) need to think that way. They need to think turnovers, takeaways. It doesn’t just happen. They envision it. They dream of getting the pick-six, and that makes it more likely to happen.
“We fumbled 20 times this year, that’s not good. Our interceptions started to decline, which was good. If you look at the 15 interceptions we threw, I bet all of them are avoidable. There wasn’t, I don’t think, a Hail Mary interception, that you can say, ‘Oh, throw that one out.’ They’re all avoidable.
“Penalties are (not good). We need to continue to up our football IQ and realize that many of those are avoidable, also. I think we got better from the year before with post-snap penalties. But any unsportsmanlike is ridiculous, I think. Those are selfish penalties We had too many false starts. Linemen downfield. That’s part of the product of the R-P-O (run-pass-option) game. We have ways we should have lessened those. The awareness of our team is not great.”
Keeping it fun
Rolovich was fun and unique this season, staging a water-balloon fight among coaches and players, wearing a hunting knife in a game against Nevada, and giving each player a Capri Sun symbolic of bringing the “juice” to the game.
“I learned the last time I was here not to read the blogs, not to read the message boards, because that influenced the way I coached,” Rolovich said. “I think if I make every decision in my day with the best interest of my family and this football program at the forefront, it doesn’t matter. I think that’s where (athletic director) Dave Matlin comes in, if he doesn’t like something I do, like the knife. He asked me not to bring another weapon on the field. I get it. I understand it. It was something for our players. Now they know, but they thought I was all full of (it) when I first got here and I told them, ‘Guys, I’m going to do some crazy, stupid (stuff). Let me do it. It’s not because I want people to look at me. I want people to talk about Hawaii football. And you guys just go out and play.’ I said, ‘Don’t read what I said in the media, you concentrate on playing, I’ll get people talking about us as much as I can. And as long as you continue doing your job on the field, they’ll continue to talk about us.’
“You can’t force any of that. And poor Lois. It’s spontaneous creativity. It’s not like I planned the knife for months. I planned the water-balloon fight for years. But the knife was something, ‘all right, I’m bringing it today.’ The juice box? Poor Lois. We were on the road and I said we need juice boxes. She’s gotta go find juice boxes. Most of those things are pertinent to our situation and what’s going on.”
Learning from the past
Rolovich tries to relate his playing experience under UH head coach June Jones, when he won the starting quarterback’s job in 2000, lost it two games later, and regained it in a record-setting 2001 after Timmy Chang suffered a season-ending injury.
“I gave up the starting job,” Rolovich said. “I did it. I was mad at myself. I would do exactly what June did. To be honest with you, in the era of social media and everyone’s a paparazzi, if I was doing now what I was doing then, it would have happened sooner. I’m just really good at not getting caught. It’s not something I’m proud of. I’m very fortunate I didn’t get hurt. I didn’t do anything really stupid or get in trouble for it. I wasn’t an angel. I’m still not an angel. I don’t think many are. I think there’s a time when you need to wake up. And Coach Jones woke me up. He said, ‘Your dream’s over. You’ve got to earn it back.’ I was lucky I got the opportunity to. (If not), I’m not sitting here. I’m probably sitting in (Fire) Station 2 in (San Francisco’s) Chinatown, with my feet up, seeing what we’re going to cook for dinner. That’s where I was going. I knew I didn’t want to leave the game.”
Rolovich also learned about conquering adversity when he was not retained after Greg McMackin was released as UH head coach following the 2011 season.
“Though I’d love to stay here for the rest of my life, the reality is somebody is going to get sick of me,” Rolovich said. “You’ve always got to be ready to get fired. I understand that. I’ve had coaches I’ve observed as a player, whom I saw them deal with it maturely and say, ‘This is part of the deal, this is part of the game you’ve chosen.’ You either accept it or you don’t.
“Yeah, I was pissed off when I got fired. It’s more the time you’re starting a family and it’s like, ‘Shoot, I’m the one bringing food and I didn’t do my job well enough. Now I’ve got to find more work.’ What we’re trying to teach these guys, at some point, something bad is going to happen and you’re going to have to act like a man of aloha, and that’s the way you move forward in life. Nothing you say bitterly is ever going to help you. That shows your true colors in crunch time of how you’re going to act.
“… If I didn’t find my wife, and just roaming the world coaching football, I could do it. But my dang wife got hold of my heart. … I just know I don’t want to lose this job. Until the day I do, I’m going to do everything I can to keep it. And do it not only for my family but for what Hawaii’s given me.”