Here’s the thing I most remember about Todd Graham, a “defense” coach: I remember his Tulsa team winning 62-35 against Hawaii at Aloha Stadium, in the 2010 Hawaii Bowl.
The Golden Hurricane also beat Notre Dame that year AT SOUTH BEND, 28-27. It was one of seven consecutive wins to close out the season, as Tulsa went 10-3. The Rainbow Warriors won 10 games, too, and had been ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press poll before bowl season started. After that game, Tulsa took UH’s place at the second-to-last spot in the Top 25. Hawaii hasn’t smelled a spot in that poll since.
And now Graham takes the place of Nick Rolovich, the Hawaii head coach who was UH’s 31-year-old offensive coordinator in 2010, and is now the 40-year-old head coach at Washington State.
I’m sure David Matlin remembers the Hawaii Bowl beatdown, too … at that time, the current Hawaii athletic director was the bowl game’s executive director. So if he didn’t know Graham before that Hawaii Bowl, he certainly did after it.
Back in 2010 @HawaiiAthletics Athletics Director @DavidAKMatlin presented @RealCoachGraham with the @HawaiiBowl championship trophy – Today he chose Graham as the 24th head coach in @HawaiiFootball history #HawaiiFB #GoBows pic.twitter.com/gqXCbbHsIV
— Rob DeMello (@RobDeMelloKHON) January 22, 2020
If you’re looking for a connection, maybe that’s it.
I’m surprised, and here’s why … Graham is 55 years old. That used to be a sweet spot in age for a college head football coach. And I’m not going to say it’s old, but head coaches are getting younger.
Graham’s got lots of experience, and a winning overall record as a college head coach (95-61).
But I thought Matlin would go with one of UH’s offensive coordinators, Brian Smith or Craig Stutzmann, who are both 40 (same age as Rolovich).
Whenever a coaching change is made, I usually look for signs of a pendulum effect; if the former coach was old, the next choice swings toward youth — and vice versa. But this usually only comes into play if the previous coach is being fired or otherwise leaving due to underachievement … you know, don’t make the same mistake twice.
That wasn’t the case here. Rolo is no longer here and must be replaced because he succeeded, not because he failed.
Since UH won 18 games the past two seasons, it would seem to make sense to promote from within. We’ll never know if Smith or Stutzmann would have kept the momentum going.
Smith and Stutzmann will be fine; they’re among the assistants Rolovich took to Pullman, where they’ll be paid handsomely. And who knows? At the rate Graham moves around sometimes, maybe it won’t be long before they are again candidates for the Hawaii head coaching job — this time with Power Five coordinator experience.
But what of the players left behind? How many of them will transfer, perhaps to Wazzu to re-join their former coaches?
A year at Pittsburgh followed that Hawaii Bowl victory for Graham, and then he left after the Panthers went 6-6, headed for Arizona State. Some of the Pitt players were not happy with Graham bidding farewell via text message. He’s also spent just one year as Rice’s head coach before jumping to Tulsa.
In Tempe, Graham’s team went 28-12 his first three years, but just 18-20 the next three.
His first challenge is to win over the players … players that were recruited and coached by Rolovich, Smith, Stutzmann and several others who also are headed for Washington State. That starts with a team meeting. And then Graham will try to build a shaky fan base … many of whom will be skeptical despite all those points in the Hawaii Bowl nearly a decade ago.
Many of the local fans would have preferred a former UH player like Smith or Stutzmann. Those two have been operating the run-and-shoot since they were a center and slot receiver at Manoa 20 years ago.
But Matlin must have had vivid memories of those 62 Hawaii Bowl points while interviewing Graham, and must believe he can repeat that or something close to it now in Manoa.