2007 was also the season that saw the Hawai'i Warriors upset Boise State to win the conference title and advance to a BCS bowl game. Yes, Hawai'i went to a BCS game just five years ago. Led by record-setting quarterback Colt Brennan, the Warriors under head coach June Jones posted a perfect 12-0 regular season, the first undefeated regular season in school history. It was the school's first (and so far, only) outright conference title. Losing to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl did little to dampen the enthusiasm around Jones and the Hawai'i program.
Exactly how long ago does that seem today? "Like an eternity," said a Hawai'i staffer. It's a place the Warrior program longs to return to.
In 2007, Norm Chow, the renowned offensive coordinator who was part of national title teams at BYU and USC, was in his final season as the offensive coordinator of the NFL's Tennessee Titans. The Titans went 10-6 and made the AFC playoffs that season, but it was largely due to an excellent defense, with the offense ranking 21st overall. Chow left the NFL after that season and joined Rick Neuheisel's staff at UCLA before he eventually returned home - to his alma mater, Utah - to coach on Kyle Whittingham's staff as the Utes entered the Pac 12 in 2011.
Meanwhile, Jones left Hawai'i to take over at SMU after the 2008 season. At the time, one of the leading candidates to replace him was supposed to be Norm Chow. Except that Chow - who had interviewed for other head jobs and had already turned down the head job at the University of Kentucky - reportedly did not pursue the Hawai'i gig at the time. Instead, he opted to stay at UCLA for another season before moving back to the mountains. Along with playing his college ball at Utah, Chow first made a name for himself as an assistant coach at BYU. But the fact remained that Chow was a Hawaii native, and many people felt it was meant to be that the first head coaching gig for the venerable long time assistant would be back on the island. Those people were right.
It finally happened just before Christmas 2011. After nearly 40 years as an assistant coach, Chow accepted the opportunity to replace Greg McMackin and become the first Asian-American head coach of a major college football program - in a move that coincided with Hawai'i's move to the Mountain West Conference.
The good Chow inherited: A program that had been to seven bowl games the previous 10 seasons and posted three double-digit win seasons. The bad: A program that had losing seasons in two of the past three years. The difficult: Un-installing the Warriors well known and deeply rooted "run and shoot" offense and inserting Chow's tried and true pro-style system. It was a more dramatic change than most people would think.
"Ya, it was tough. We didn't have any tight ends or fullbacks on the roster. The receivers were all smaller, quicker guys, not pro set guys. We had to move some players over from linebacker and things like that," said former Warrior defensive lineman and current Hawai'i linebackers coach Tony Tuioti, who was the only holdover from McMakin's staff. "But it's going to be fine. Just need some time."
The warm and fuzzy feeling around the time of Chow's hiring is something that remains in place for these Warriors, whose fan base seems willing to give their native son a pass for this season, even after Hawai'i fell for the fifth straight time, losing to Colorado State 42-27 on Saturday. Confidence that Chow can return Hawai'i to the upper echelon of college football seems genuine. Aside from the normal grumbling about who's starting at QB - and every team that struggles hears that from the outside - the Warrior fan base remains firmly in behind their new coach.
We remember where Hawai'i was five seasons ago. The question now is where can the program be five years from now?