SMU hopes June Jones can replicate Hawaii success
Posted: Friday January 25, 2008 4:44PM; Updated: Saturday January 26, 2008 12:43AM
It was Dec. 1 and Steve Orsini was sitting in his Dallas home watching unbeaten Hawaii, which had designs on crashing the BCS party, clawing its way back from a three-touchdown deficit against Washington.
"I'm like, 'If they win, they'd be the only undefeated team in the nation and our society would love to see that team get a chance to move up to a BCS bowl,' " he said.
That, of course, was the fan in Orsini speaking. But he just so happens to be SMU's athletic director, and from that standpoint, this comeback was what he called "the fly in the ointment."
"I started to say to myself, 'Wait a minute Hawaii, don't win,' " he said.
That was because June Jones, the coach leading the Warriors back from that 21-0 deficit was at the top of Orsini's list of candidates for the Mustangs' next coach -- and a BCS bowl berth for Hawaii would only further draw out Orsini's search.
"One thing I said to myself was, 'I am not going to hurt the opportunity of a coach and the student-athletes at that university,' " he said. " 'Let's let them finish out the year because SMU is in this for the long run.' "
Orsini, too, was in it for the long run. Seventy-one days after firing Phil Bennett, who was in the midst of a 1-11 campaign, Orsini had his man in Jones. SMU is hoping Jones can duplicate the turnaround he pulled in Hawaii with a once-proud SMU program that has never fully recovered from receiving the death penalty in the late 1980s -- which stemmed from players allegedly receiving money from a booster with the help of athletic department staff.
"Yes, it took 71 days, but I look back on it and I hope we look at it years from now and say that's the best 71 days invested in SMU football in the history of SMU football," Orsini said.
But why would Jones leave one reclamation project for another? Why would he move from Hawaii, after seeing the Warriors go from 0-12 before he arrived in 1999 to 12-1 and a Sugar Bowl berth in 2007, to take over a team that has gone 58-153-3 since 1989?
Well, there's always the money: he went from making $800,000 a year in his deal with Hawaii, which was set to expire on June 30, to receiving a five-year deal worth $10 million from SMU. There are the facilities: the Mustangs play in the seven-year-old Gerald J. Ford Stadium and have a state-of-the-art training center, while Hawaii plays in 33-year-old Aloha Stadium, on which the state is spending $12.4 million to free of rust and corrosion. "I was there for nine years and basically nothing changed in those years," Jones said.
More importantly, Jones says it was about the chance to revitalize another program -- and himself. He says he was twice prepared to leave Honolulu because the athletic department was "in a paralysis state of doing the things that were necessary to maintain a high level within the department," once before the 2005 season (but the hiring of Jerry Glanville as defensive coordinator re-energized him) and again before last season (but no NFL position he was interested in materialized).
Just before Christmas, he told agent Leigh Steinberg there were only two programs he was interested in: Duke and SMU, two teams that posted 1-11 records in 2007.
"He thought I was crazy for even saying that," Jones said.
But he believes his players-first approach -- which is rooted in positive-reinforcement instead of yelling -- is better served at a school looking to rebound.
"I think by nature these things have been attractive to me because I know the philosophy I have in treating the players and dealing with the players, and offensively it works and can turn these situations, and it kind of motivates me to be a part of it," he said.