Hawaii football: As Rainbow Warriors history shows, a ‘quarterback controversy’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing

Timmy Chang, seen here against Tulsa on Oct. 19, 2002, was no stranger to quarterback controversies. / Star-Advertiser file photo by Richard Walker

If you take the words “quarterback controversy” and just run with it, it could mean a lot of different things. For example, should Mason Rudolph also be punished for his part in the fight at the end of Thursday’s game between the Steelers and the Browns that ended with Myles Garrett hitting Rudolph on the head with his own helmet? It’s a “controversy,” and it involves a “quarterback,” right?

OK, I know, that’s too literal of an interpretation … something I’m guilty of at times. (Mostly I just wanted to mention one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen happen in a sports event.)

Yes, I realize that when people talk about a “quarterback controversy” it is in reference to a situation where there is disagreement on which quarterback should be playing, or starting, for a specific team. And that leads to where my real problem is with the term: Unless a team is undefeated and the starting QB completes every single pass he throws for a touchdown, there are going to be some fans out there who think the backup should be starting. That means all teams (well, maybe except for the New England Patriots) are permanently in some state of “quarterback controversy.”

Just for fun, I googled it. And here’s what came up, courtesy of something called “Super Glossary.”

A public outcry from fans or the media when a starting quarterback (sometimes injured and old) is performing under par and the back-up quarterback is performing better or beyond expectation. Examples in history include San Francisco’s Steve Young and Joe Montana, Washington’s Doug Williams and Jay Schroeder, New England’s Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe, and Buffalo’s Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie.

Those examples are all from the NFL (and from quite a while ago). Is any of it applicable to the University of Hawaii situation, where second-year freshman Chevan Cordeiro started last week instead of Cole McDonald, who is among the nation’s leaders in several passing categories?

McDonald isn’t injured. “Old” doesn’t apply, these guys are in college. McDonald has more experience as a college quarterback, but Cordeiro has more with nuances of the run-and-shoot offense, since he played in it in high school, winning a state championship.

Cordeiro played the entire game last week and performed very well, and Hawaii beat San Jose State 42-40. Coach Nick Rolovich has not named a starter for Saturday’s game at UNLV.

“Sometimes a QB controversy isn’t a bad thing,” said Mike Cherry, the former Hawaii sportscaster who now works as a news anchor in New Hampshire. “There have been many years when UH fans would have killed to have this year’s so-called problem.”

Whether there is a “quarterback controversy” or not right now at UH depends on perspective.

Coaches don’t like the word “controversy” attached in any way to their teams. They prefer “competition.” Coaches will always tell you there isn’t a controversy, that they just start the players who give the team the best chance to win. We were told after last week’s game that Cordeiro started because he had a better week in practice than McDonald. Some people want to claim that is BS, but I don’t because it is consistent with what Rolovich and his staff have said since the beginning of last season: McDonald and Cordeiro are thisclose in their ability to win games for the Warriors.

The media will tell you — as I did a few paragraphs above — that there is a controversy any chance we get. Quarterback controversies attract readers and viewers.

So do lists, and here’s mine of a few memorable UH quarterback controversies. The ones I picked are purposely to prove that a QBC can come about even when everything seems honky-dory. There have been many, many others … as I said, teams are almost always at some level of QBC, and it is extremely rare for everyone to be happy with the coach’s choice.

>> 1974: June Jones and Alex Kaloi. First-year head coach Larry Price chose Leilehua grad Kaloi to direct his “Hula-T” offense. The Rainbows went 6-5. Jones ended up at Portland State, where Mouse Davis was running a crazy offense called the run-and-shoot. Jones played and coached in the NFL before returning to Hawaii as head coach from 1999 to 2007. UH went 12-1 in Jones’ last season as coach, the only loss being in the Sugar Bowl.

>> 1981: Tim Lyons and Bernard Quarles. Lyons and Quarles shared time as UH went 9-2. Lyons had planned to redshirt, but Quarles underwent surgery the week before the season started and Lyons was pressed into action by coach Dick Tomey. As Quarles recovered and the season progressed, Lyons had been playing the first and third quarters and Quarles the second and fourth. The Rainbows won their first eight games and were ranked No. 17 when BYU came to town. UH’s offense couldn’t get going with either QB in the first half, and Tomey decided to start the second half with Quarles. Hawaii lost 13-3, and then the following week, 23-17 to 20-point underdog Pacific. One of Hawaii’s best teams bounced back, though, to finish the season with a 33-10 win over South Carolina.

>> 2003: Timmy Chang and Jason Whieldon. Whieldon started the season-opener, a 40-17 victory over Appalachian State, as Chang was suspended due to an academic infraction from the previous season. Chang — a junior who would set numerous NCAA career passing records — returned to the starting lineup the next game, and UH was 8-4 when it met Alabama on Nov. 29 at Aloha Stadium. Chang was ineffective against the Tide, and Whieldon came in to pass for four touchdowns and run for another in Hawaii’s 37-29 win. Whieldon started the next game, a regular-season-ending 45-28 loss to Boise State (Chang came in, in relief). In the Hawaii Bowl, Chang regained his form, throwing five touchdown passes as UH beat Houston 54-48 in three overtimes.

>> 2007: Colt Brennan, Tyler Graunke and Inoke Funaki. A quarterback controversy involving a player in the middle of a season in which he’d be a Heisman Trophy finalist? Yes, it really happened, and here’s how: On Nov. 10, Brennan took a crushing helmet-to-helmet blow from Fresno State linebacker Marcus Riley that knocked Brennan out of the game with a concussion. Graunke finished up the 37-30 victory that ran Hawaii’s record to 9-0. The question was if Brennan could play six days later at Nevada, or even make the trip. As it turned out, he started, but threw two quick, short passes before being relieved by Graunke. Funaki also played quarterback on the first drive that ended with a Dan Kelly field goal. Graunke went the rest of the way, completing 33 of 46 passes for 358 yards and two touchdowns. Kelly kicked the game-winning 45-yard field goal (twice, as Nevada coach Chris Ault called timeout), and Hawaii remained unbeaten with a 28-26 win. Graunke was the WAC Player of the Week, and Brennan was back to lead UH to wins against Boise State and Washington completing its undefeated regular season.


  1. UH fan November 15, 2019 7:18 pm

    Good stuff Mr. Reardon.

  2. Jon Lavezza November 16, 2019 8:41 am

    Another great article , well done

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