June Jones-Hawaii reunion stalls after sides rip each other over negotiations

It has been anything but a banner last few months for Hawaii’s football program. In December, multiple Rainbow Warrior players made claims to the San Francisco Chronicle of verbal and emotional abuse by then-coach Todd Graham. A month later, Graham was brought before two Hawaii Senate committees to testify under oath about what was going on in the program.

A week after that, Graham resigned after two seasons and an 11-11 record in Manoa. The university has been looking for his replacement since, and it appeared as though a reunion with June Jones, the coach with the most wins in program history, was in line.

Both sides were still interested as recently as Friday, but then things deteriorated quickly and publicly. 

Jones started by tamping down the rumors about a return. He told local media that while he was still interested in the job, he couldn’t accept it as it was presented to him by athletic director David Matlin. He went into detail about the process after walking out of the negotiations; in particular, he listed stipulations with which he took particular issue.

“I’d still like the job, but I was not really offered a job that’s conducive to winning. How are you going to recruit when you’ve only got a two-year contract? I told Dave [Matlin] I’ll take a five-year contract and you can fire me anytime, no penalty,” Jones said. “How are you going to recruit when kids want to know who their coach is going to be for the next four or five years?”  

Beyond the length of the contract, Jones was particularly against the notion of ceding control of personnel decisions. The Hawaii administration reportedly has a succession plan in place, and it includes Jones hiring Colorado State wideouts coach Timmy Chang, who was a star quarterback under Jones at Hawaii from 2000-04.

“I’ve never taken a job that dictated who I can hire and who I can’t hire — and I don’t think any coach in their right mind would take a job like that,” he said. “They offered, but it wasn’t acceptable what they offered.”

Jones, 68, led the Rainbow Warriors from 1999-07. He won two conference titles, won double-digit games three times and led the program to a top-15 ranking in his final season. Hawaii was 0-12 the season before Jones’ arrival and had lost 18 consecutive games.

As much as contract length and personnel decisions bothered Jones, he said his familiarity with the program led him to consider coming back.

“It’s not about money. It’s not about anything else other than trying to help the local kids and the people of Hawaii and the support has been unbelievable everywhere I go,” he said. “Hopefully they reconsider. It’s not like I don’t know how to turn around a program and it’s not like it’s anything different or revolutionary from when I was here before.”

Then Hawaii’s administration responded. Through spokesman Dan Meisenzahl, it criticized Jones for his handling of the negotiations, saying it wasn’t “honest.” 

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Jones said he remains interested in the job but that the ball is in Hawaii’s court.

As for whether the feeling for a reunion is mutual, UH said the job is still open.

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