Wes Nakama: Hiring of Kevin Clune could be a steal for UH football


HONOLULU — The hiring of former Utah State linebackers coach Kevin Clune as the University of Hawaii football team’s new defensive coordinator was met with mostly quiet reaction last week, from “Who dat?” to “Who cares?”

But a year from now, for the Rainbow Warriors the reaction will hopefully be, “What a steal!”

From several perspectives, that already could appear to the case.

True, Clune may not have instant name recognition and does not come from a “name” brand program.

But upon closer review, and under the circumstances, it would be hard to imagine a more suitable choice given the price tag and qualified candidates available.

Early on, the public’s wish list included high-profile names with local ties such as Duane Akina, Brian Norwood, Rich Ellerson, Brian Cabral. But for many reasons — and given UH’s 1-11 record in 2013, the program’s financial crisis and the cost of living on Oahu — those and other candidates did not reach the finish line, or even enter the race. For some, it would be a lateral move at best and a big step backward and/or pay cut at worst.

Toss in the uncertainty of Norm Chow’s future — another bad season could prompt a buyout and massive house-cleaning — and it would take a unique individual and situation to find it a good fit.

Clune appears to be that person.

After five successful seasons as linebackers coach at Utah State, he is in prime position for a promotion to NCAA Division I defensive coordinator. Maybe not at a top-notch program, but surely for a mid-to-low major school like Hawaii.

And as far as position coaches go, his resume is as good as it gets at the mid-major level:

Utah State finished this past season at 9-5 after a 21-14 victory over then-No. 24-ranked Northern Illinois in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. The nine wins are the second-most in school history and represents the most victories by an Aggies team since 1960 and 1961.

Utah State also received two votes each in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Top 25 polls, tying for 37th in each.

The Aggies defense ranked seventh in the nation in scoring defense in 2013 (17.1 points per game) and 2012 (15.4 ppg), and 12th in total defense in 2013 (330.9 yards per game) and 15th in 2012 (322.1 ypg).

Utah State led the Mountain West Conference in eight defensive categories this past season, and three linebackers coached by Clune earned all-conference honors.

By comparison, UH finished 115th in the nation (out of 125 teams) in total defense (494.7 ypg) and 113th in scoring defense (38.8 ppg) this past season.

In his duties as linebackers coach, Clune was involved in all phases of the Aggies defense: game planning, scouting and play-calling. He previously served as defensive coordinator at Weber State (2005-08), which advanced to the NCAA Division I-AA quarterfinals in 2008 and led the Big Sky Conference in pass defense (208.4 ypg) and pass efficiency defense (109.4) that season.

Clune also was defensive coordinator at Southern Utah in 2003 and 2004.

So he brings to the table these credentials and advantages:

  • There will be only a subtle learning curve as far as putting together effective scouting reports and game plans for Mountain West opponents, since he already experienced success against most of them. And he obviously knows what to expect from Utah State, which routed the Rainbow Warriors 47-10 last season.
  • He already has a good idea about what UH and Chow are about, having just studied them less than three months ago. Clune also said he and Chow had met and crossed paths many times before.
  • He comes from a program that has similar challenges and resources as Hawaii, as opposed to someone used to coaching players from a different talent level — like Chow. Clune has proved he can make Division I winners out of recruits who were not necessarily four-or-five-star caliber.
  • He’s affordable. At $160,000 per year, he will make 36 percent ($90,000/year) less than his predecessor, Thom Kaumeyer. That is crucial for an athletic department that is bleeding red ink and needing money for other things.
  • He’s motivated. This job represents not just a climb in the coaching ladder but also a chance to prove he has potential to climb even higher — like a top-level school coordinator position or even a head coaching job. But he knows he will first be judged by what he achieves here.

The major question that remains is Clune’s ability to relate to the Rainbow Warriors and recruit future ones. He lacks the strong Hawaii ties that the above-mentioned candidates have, and has yet to prove he can recruit local and Mainland kids to UH.

But if he can recruit players to spend two or four years at Logan, Utah, then Honolulu should not be much more difficult.

With National Letter of Intent Day only three weeks away, that may not matter much anyway for this recruiting season.

The more pressing matter is spring football and the 2014 season, and Clune seems to be more prepared for that than anyone else UH could have hired, under the circumstances.

That, among other reasons, is why he may turn out to be a steal.

Reach Wes Nakama at wesnakama@gmail.com.