Hawaii football coach Chang says he’ll find a way to make it work

2023 Oct. 14 SPT - Honolulu Star-Advertiser photo by Jamm Aquino/jaquino@staradvertiser.com Jamm Aquino/Honolulu Star-Advertiser Hawaii head coach Timmy Chang looks on from the sideline during the first half of a college football game against the San Diego State Aztecs on Oct. 14 in Honolulu.

In the “Iron Church” — the strength-training area in 67-year-old Klum Gym — the University of Hawaii football team shows its mettle.

Using decades-old equipment relocated during renovations to the Waterhouse Sports Performance Facility, the Rainbow Warriors lift, pull, push and curl weights in a gym that comfort forgot. During breaks from practices, meetings, video sessions and planning, head coach Timmy Chang bypasses the modern facility to work out in the Iron Church.

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You don’t need a lot, Chang has often said, to do a lot.

After work, he takes the scenic route home. No short cuts — a policy that describes his drive to Kalama Valley, his diligence, and his work in developing the Warriors.

“I am grateful and blessed to be the 25th head coach of the University of Hawaii football team,” said Chang, who was hired by his alma mater in 2022 to succeed Todd Graham. “When you get the job, you’re figuring it out. I’m a first-time head coach, so I’m figuring it out. You look at your landscape. You look at what has to be done, and you figure it out.”

Fourteen years ago, when Chang, a record-setting quarterback at UH and Saint Louis School, expressed an interest in coaching, Mililani High coach Rod York made an offer.

“When you start in this profession, you don’t have a lot of money,” Chang said. “When you start off, you find a way. I had my first child. I was getting into coaching. They gave me a job as a teacher’s assistant. I’m on food stamps. I’m doing my clinics on the weekend. I’m helping Rod coach his Mililani Trojans team. That’s the journey. These are things you figure out. If you want to make it work, you find a way.”

In 2012, SMU’s June Jones, who was Chang’s head coach at UH for five years, offered a position as graduate assistant. The hours were long and the job was challenging. “Those are entry-level jobs,” Chang said. “But I loved it. It was exciting. It was an adventure. And I was coaching.”

Jones said: “I knew he was right for the job. He understood our (run-and-shoot) offense. He understood what you needed to do to progress in this profession.”

Ensuing coaching stints paved Chang’s way back to Manoa. But Chang inherited a team that lost 19 players to the transfer portal, many departing between the end of the 2021 season and the Hawaii Bowl. The bowl was mercifully canceled when the Warriors, depleted by transfers and COVID-19 infections, could not field a competitive team.

Through team-building and community events, Chang said, “we injected a lift into them. (Nick Rolovich) did the same thing when he was hired (as UH head coach in 2016). … It’s getting the right guys in the locker room, bringing in talent, building great cohesion, and then going to work and having a standard and discipline.”

Chang also tried to emulate Jones’ approach. “His programs were built off love,” Chang said. “Our program is built off love — love for each other, love for the game, love for this community, love for this state, love for yourself. It starts with that basic understanding.”

The Warriors went 3-10 in 2022. With Chang taking over the offensive play-calling last year, the Warriors won three of their final four to finish 5-8. During the offseason, Chang directed an overhaul.

Chang has invested fully in the run-and-shoot, a scheme he ran at Saint Louis under Ron Lee and Cal Lee, and at UH under Jones. Chang’s version has the option of a tight end as one of the slot receivers, but the concept — routes based on the coverages — remains true to the blueprint co-designed by Mouse Davis and Jones four decades ago.

“It made sense to surround our guys with some run-and-shoot coaches,” Chang said. Dan “Smooth” Morrison, who was brought in as a consultant last year, was hired as quarterbacks coach. It’s the same title Morrison held under Jones for 16 years at UH and SMU.

When offensive line coach Roman Sapolu accepted a job with the Miami Dolphins, Chang brought in Dennis McKnight as a consultant and Derek Fa‘avi to coach the line. McKnight recently was named special teams coordinator for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. As UH’s center in 2005, Fa‘avi was selected as the Warriors’ most valuable player, beating out future NFL players Colt Brennan, Davone Bess, Nate Ilaoa, Melilia Purcell and Samson Satele.

Of the offensive additions, which also include Saint Louis teammate Anthony Arceneaux as running backs coach, Chang said, “none better than a center I played with (Fa‘avi), and a mentor of mine in Dan Morrison.”

To boost the defense, Chang relied on past ties. He wanted an attacking scheme, mirroring the aggressive style Jones employed when he hired two coaches with NFL backgrounds — Greg McMackin and Jerry Glanville — to run his defenses. Dennis Thurman, who was defensive coordinator for the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills under Rex Ryan, was hired to implement a scheme that employs several looks, including the 1985 Chicago Bears’ 46 defense and the Baltimore Ravens’ pressure attack.

At Santa Monica High, Morrison was Thurman’s teacher and coach. As a defensive back with the Dallas Cowboys, Thurman often trained at Punahou School, where Morrison was the head football coach. As assistant coach at USC in 1999, “Dennis recruited me,” Chang recalled.

In the coaching carousel, Chang and Colorado State’s Jay Norvell have ascended into a second-place tie in the Mountain West in seniority for continuous head-coaching tenure at the same school.

Seven of the conference’s 12 football members have new head coaches this season.

“When you talk about going into your third year, you know what to expect,” Chang said. “You know your conference. You know your guys. You know your coaching staff. You know your community. You know a lot more than when you first walked in the door. That’s what’s happening now.”

Asked about his season’s goal, Chang said, “win.”