Perhaps no FBS program has dealt with more turmoil in the last 36 months than the University of Hawaii. After ending the 2019 season with 10 wins and a 38-34 win over BYU in the Hawaii Bowl, the sheer volume of bad news has been almost debilitating. The list of significant blows the program has taken is very lengthy:
- Hawaii alum and 2019 MWC Coach of the Year Nick Rolovich took the Head Coach position at Washington State.
- COVID-19 forced the team to play all of its 2020 home games without fans.
- Aloha Stadium, the team’s home venue since 1975, was closed following the 2020 season. It was condemned and deemed unsafe to hold crowds of any size.
- Former quarterback, and their most beloved player of all-time, Colt Brennan died tragically at the age of 37 in May 2021.
- Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex, an on-campus multi-purpose stadium with only 4,100 seats, was forced into use as Hawaii’s emergency home in 2021. Though it was expanded to 9,300 seats, it still falls below the FBS required minimum threshold of 15,000.
- Despite a 6-7 record, the Rainbow Warriors were selected to play Memphis in the 2021 Hawaii Bowl. Unfortunately the team canceled the game less than 24 hours before kickoff due to not having enough players (COVID-19 outbreak, injuries and transfers).
- Starting QB Chevan Cordeiro, along with many other high profile players, transferred to play elsewhere following the 2021 season.
- The wave of player departures and multiple reports of alleged mistreatment by Head Coach Todd Graham led to a Hawaii State Senate inquiry into the program. With pressure intensifying Graham resigned in January of this year, even though he still had 3 years left on his contract.
These devastating hits left Hawaii with no head coach, no long-term stadium plan and a deflated fan base. Win or lose, Hawaii fans have always supported their team. But even this was being tested given all of the adversity around their favorite school.
With a mindset of part damage control and part turning over a new leaf, Hawaii turned to another all-time great in Timmy Chang as their next head coach. His presence back on Oahu has been a welcome sight. Coach Chang has been both vocal and visible throughout 2022 in an effort to restore pride in the Rainbow Warrior program.
The hashtag #Braddahhood emerged to spark unity for everyone associated with Hawaii football. A ‘Celebration of Life’ ceremony was held for Colt Brennan on Waikiki Beach one year after his passing and was attended by the team. ‘Island Day’ was made into a big event for the Spring football game, with the band ‘Rebel Souljahz’ performing a free concert for fans.
Coach Chang’s efforts to improve morale have been complimented by positive news on the stadium front. First, Ching Athletics Complex will be expanded to 17,000 by 2023. Second, Hawaii Govenor David Ige earmarked $400 million in state funding towards the construction of NASED (New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District). The proposed 30,000-35,000 seat venue is expected to be ready by the 2026 football season and will also develop commercial, residential and retail buildings surrounding the site.
So when Hawaii opened the 2022 season Saturday with a 63-10 loss to Vanderbilt, it solidified two things: (1) The team has a lot of work to do to get back to a 10 win season like 2019; (2) It’s only up from here. Playing on-campus with a sold out crowd and no COVID restrictions was something to celebrate, even in the midst in one of the biggest losses in program history. And with Coach Chang in charge, the #Braddahhood bringing people together and New Aloha Stadium on the horizon, the future of Hawaii football is once again trending in the right direction.
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