By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
BOONE, N.C. — It has been a season of carnage already for the coaching fraternity of the Football Bowl Subdivision, with 10 coaches having either retired, or been fired.
Two more joined the swelling group on Sunday when future College Football Hall of Famer Frank Beemer announcing he is stepping down at the end of the season at Virginia Tech and offensive wizard Norman Chow being relieved of his duties at Hawaii.
The firing of Chow — coming in the wake of a 58-7 loss late on Saturday night to Air Force — was starling not because of the Rainbow Warriors’ record (2-7 overall and 0-5 in the Mountain West Conference), or their statistical results (being outscored 199-68 thus far), but because of the wording of the official Hawaii press release.
This is what Hawaii athletic director David Matlin had to say about the move:
“I’d like to thank Coach Chow for his dedication to our football program for the past four years. Ultimately, we feel this decision is in the best interest of the university and athletics department and we need to move in a different direction.”
All of the right, humble words so far. But read on:
“Ultimately, we feel this decision is in the best interest of the University and Athletic Department and we need to move in a different direction,” Matlin continued. “Coach Chow should be commended for helping our football program achieve all-time highs in APR (Academic Progress Report) scores and graduation rates.”
It was the last sentence Matlin crafted that screams for a response.
This might seem naive, but isn’t the University of Hawaii in the business of educating its students?
Now Hawaii’s academic reputation would never be confused with Harvard, Princeton, or Yale, but shouldn’t Chow’s most important job be making sure his players are prepared for the future?
While names such as defensive lineman Larry Cole and receiver Golden Richards of the Dallas Cowboys, center Jesse Sapolu and defensive back Dana McLemore of the San Francisco 49ers and kicker Jason Elam of the Denver Broncos have graced NFL rosters over the years, Rainbow Warrior alums have been few and far between.
No current Hawaii player is considered a legitimate NFL prospect. There have been only 69 draft picks from the school in NFL history and only 78 athletes that ever played in the league.
Harvard currently has five graduates performing on Sundays, while Princeton and Yale can point to one each.
So in reality, the thing that all the 100-plus Hawaii football players on the current roster need to fall back on is that precious sheepskin, bearing the University of Hawaii logo.
It is understandable that Hawaii fans are disappointed that Chow — an A-list offensive coordinator, who developed Heisman Trophy winners like quarterbacks Ty Detmer (BYU), Carson Palmer and Matt Leinert (both from USC) — had won only 10 games and five conference outings in four years under Chow’s direction.
But shouldn’t the measuring stick be something more balanced?
This writer has always been academically oriented, coming from a family that includes two brothers with Ph.Ds and several family members who have taught in college classrooms and been published authors.
I am as proud of my journalism degree from Fresno State University, one of the schools that Hawaii competes against in the Mountain West Conference, as I am of my accomplishments as a one-time sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times and in directing the Walter Payton Award program for The Sports Network.
That degree was the initial stepping stone for me in an adult lifetime of sports memories.
The importance of that degree has been even more defined in the past two years as I have transitioned my nearly-four-decades of professional journalism experience into the classroom, as an adjunct professor in the Appalachian State University’s award-winning Communication Department.
I’ve had students in my classrooms that play football, basketball, golf and tennis. I’ve even taught one cheerleader.
The common characteristic is that these kids are hard workers, who have learned to manage their time in the wake of their college sports’ demands. By and large, they take their educations seriously.
And the Appalachian community celebrates both the group of six current alums from here on NFL rosters and the many others who are excelling in other disciplines.
On Sunday morning — not long before I learned of Chow’s firing — I watched with admiration as Sam Martin of the Detroit Lions showed off his skills as a punter in London’s historic Wembley Stadium.
That adoration is just as great every time one of my former students asks me for career advice, or requests to use my name as a reference for professional jobs, or internships.
It sounds like Chow and his support staff were similarly successful in putting the emphasis on education with their athletes.
The shame is that, in Matlin and Hawaii’s mind, such academic success is only a footnote in summing up Chow’s career.