Warriors must improve defense


HONOLULU — The University of Hawaii football team’s 49-42 victory over Army on Saturday was much-needed, much-deserved and much-appreciated.

But with a final 1-11 record to show for this season, obviously there still is much work to be done for a better 2014, so there is little time to celebrate.

That work must begin now, this week, even today.

The returning players need individual assessments so they can begin the proper offseason training necessary to improve, and the coaches need to identify the most pressing areas for recruiting before stepping up efforts in those areas.

That is, the coaches who will return.

Head coach Norm Chow, with three years remaining on a contract that pays him over a half-million dollars per season, appears to be secure — if for no other reason than it would cost too much to buy him out.

His assistants — especially those on the defensive side — have no such job security. There are many reasons for the 1-11 record, but the team’s biggest problem in 2013 was an inability to stop the other team from scoring. More specifically, giving up big yardage plays and smaller gains in crucial situations, such as third and fourth down and in the red zone.

More often than not, that had to do with coaching as opposed to personnel: blown coverage, receivers wide open in a pasture, linebackers out of position for run support, lack of outside containment, poor/sloppy tackling … the list goes on and on.

In some ways, the defensive staff showed improvement Saturday vs. Army, which still leads the nation in rushing at 323.6 yards per game. UH held the Black Knights to 254 yards on the ground, and also limited them to one touchdown in the first half.

But several of the same symptoms that plagued the Rainbow Warriors defense all season reappeared in the second half: poor third quarter (21 points allowed), too many big plays (seven of 10 yards or more), too many costly penalties (two personal fouls, one face mask and a pass interference).

In retrospect, a valid question regarding these deficiencies can be raised about the relative inexperience of the defensive position coaches:

Line coach Lewis Powell is only in his second year as a full-time assistant coach; his previous experience was as a graduate assistant (2009-10) and administrative assistant (2011) at Utah.

Secondary coach Daronte Jones is in his second year as a full-time Division I assistant coach. His previous experience was one year (2011) as defensive backs coach for Montreal in the Canadian Football League, which has 12 players to a side, three downs on offense and a longer, wider field. Before that, Jones was a graduate assistant at UCLA for one year (2010) after coaching five years at Division II Bowie (Md.) State.

Linebackers coach Tony Tuioti is the Division I veteran of the full-time group, with four years total (two years with linebackers, two with the D-line), plus two years as director of player personnel (2008-09), all at UH.

Special teams coach Chris Demarest coaches the safeties and has plenty of Division I experience at Rutgers and North Carolina State, but with his time split between special teams and coordinating the summer camps and coaching clinics, he does not devote full time to defense.

Defensive coordinator Thom Kaumeyer actually has spent the past 14 seasons coaching defense in the NFL and NCAA Division I, including five years (2002-06) as defensive coordinator at San Diego State. So obviously he knows defense and knows the Mountain West Conference — could his position coaches’ inexperience be the reason his schemes never quite came together as planned?

Whatever the case, it needs to somehow be fixed, either through hiring another experienced defensive position coach or getting the current coaches better trained.

Of course, recruiting better players will also help, and specifically to fill the needs at defensive tackle, defensive end, linebacker and safety to help replace departing seniors Siasau Matagiese, Tavita Woodard, Art Laurel, Brendan Daley, Charles Clay and John Hard-Tuliau.

Junior defensive end Beau Yap was named the team’s defensive player of the year, sophomore cornerback Ne’Quan Phillips is a great playmaker and true freshman defensive tackle Kennedy Tulimasealii has already shown glimpses of his enormous potential.

If surrounded by more talent and placed in the right spots by more experienced coaches, they have an opportunity to anchor a much-improved defense in 2014.

And if that happens, you can expect a much-improved UH team overall.

Reach Wes Nakama at wesnakama@gmail.com