Hawaii football: Todd Graham’s team put up a lot of points at Aloha Stadium, but that was a while ago

Then-Hawaii head coach Greg McMackin, left, and then-Tulsa head coach Todd Graham greeted each other at Aloha Stadium's midfield after the 2010 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl was won 62-35 by Tulsa. / Star-Advertiser file photo by Jamm Aquino

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.

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.


  1. H-Man January 21, 2020 8:59 pm

    I’m not skeptical. He’s been a winner. Will renew my season tickets. Will attend all home games. Just hoping he has open practices.

  2. NotNasti January 21, 2020 9:00 pm

    I wonder what other coach said goodbye to his players via text message? Oh yeah, Rolo.

  3. Dave Reardon January 21, 2020 9:35 pm

    I think the Pitt players were more unhappy about it because it was after just one season, and he’d made the usual promises about making them great, blah, blah … Rolovich situation a little different — four years, not one, and leaving the program in a lot better shape than it was when he got there.

  4. Andrew January 21, 2020 10:04 pm

    skeptical about this hire. I think he could succeed, but Is it worth it if by in one season we are looking for another head coach again? Say he changes the offensive scheme too. Then bring in another head coach and it’s back to changing the scheme possibly again. Hard to sustain success if always changing

  5. Entertainment January 21, 2020 10:12 pm

    Will he continue with the R&S offense? Or, will he bring in a pro set offense?

    Next year looks like a rebuild yr for Hawaii Football

  6. Winning January 21, 2020 11:15 pm

    Matlin da da da da! Big mistake! Should have gone younger. Everybody is going whaaaaat! Too old!

  7. Harold Abe January 22, 2020 4:43 am

    What? With a fragile home base, why would you not hire from within unless they chose to go the WSU. So much for Ohana.

  8. mileHIwarrior January 22, 2020 7:02 am

    Matlin has made hires in the past that have been successful (Ganot, Robyn, Rolo). This one is a bit different cuz of all those, Graham is the only major hire with no link to Hawaii/UH at all. At this point, gotta have faith cuz we got a coach now and 100% support is all I can give.

  9. cappie the $2000 dog January 22, 2020 8:06 am

    Dennis Erickson coached a season at Idaho before moving on to Arizona State.

  10. rabbit ears January 22, 2020 8:26 am

    I think Matlin wanted someone who hopefully can boast attendance.

  11. Mytake January 22, 2020 9:14 am

    What makes Reardon think he knows what the majority of UH fans are thinking of the hire? Seems to be more like his own opinions.

  12. OceanGuy808 January 22, 2020 10:36 am

    It’s a good hire. This guy has lots of experience at being a head coach and he’ll continue the winning tradition at UH

  13. Owen January 22, 2020 11:54 am

    Good choice. A seasoned head coach not looking for career opportunities. Has money so salary not an issue.

  14. H-Man January 22, 2020 12:58 pm

    I just don’t know how he will assemble a staff comparable to his background with the minuscule salary budget.

  15. Sllenzi January 22, 2020 2:02 pm

    Despite Rolo giving his heart and soul to UH and the State of Hawaii while breathing life back into a dead program, none of us put our butts in the seats – inability to commit our individual support for the team and the athletes, even after Rolo got a lot of them to commit to UH instead of mainland, was most likely a driving factor. Look at the empty Aloha Stadium on natl tv for Hawaii Bowl. Rolo also has first hand knowledge of the fickle treatment of June Jones during the 2007 season and the Greg McMackin in a 10 win season. We tend to do things that make us worthy of Von Appens and Chows! Is it possible for fans to learn that they must support the new coach and the team unconditionally if they want success, or is it too late already?

  16. justsomeguy January 22, 2020 2:34 pm

    Sllenzi –

    You are right on the money my man…..though those of us who regularly check these posts and ST’s blog ARE the ones showing up and contributing what we can to the program….hopefully Graham can find a way to broaden this message and get people involved again. I know Rolo reallyyyyy tried, especially that first year, to connect to fans and there was almost no one there for him….I know from a close friend in the program that even in his fourth year in to still have less than 20k people showing up was genuinely very disheartening for Nick.

  17. H-Man January 23, 2020 8:55 am

    The stadium was not empty, just a smaller crowd that pretty much filled the makai side. However, you don’t see this crowd because the cameras are on the makai side pointing at the mauka side. In the Mountain West, a fan base of 20,000 is very good. Cannot compare Hawaii to the Big 10 or SEC. Also keep in mind PPV really hurt attendance, couple that with the way the Stadium Authority mismanaged the stadium, especially the parking. They did no favors for UH football.

  18. H-Man January 23, 2020 11:09 am

    20,000 fan base now, but what’s going to happen with the new stadium. Many questions, like, will there be a place to tailgate? How will the parking be managed? I think the state is banking on fans taking the rail. But only seniors like me will use the rail. The younger fans will want to tailgate. Without that option, you will lose much of that crowd.

    And Justsomeguy, Rolo really worked to connect with the young, 12 and under age group, creating a carnival-like “spring fling” and other activities involving youth groups. Which is fine, but he kind of overlooked the central and westside football crazy fans, choosing instead to focus on the Bishop Street group. Even at the spring-fling, there were more food trucks offering vegan or vegan-type fare.

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