A 2015 football season that will go down as one of the most disappointing Hawaii seasons in recent history may have actually been matched by an equally fruitless recruiting season, at least until now.
Former head coach Norm Chow was dismissed on Nov. 1, shortly after a 58-7 loss to Air Force marked the team’s sixth straight loss to a 2-7 start on the year and a 10-36 record in the Chow era at UH. The remaining staff immediately suspended all recruiting until a new hire would be made.
From one perspective, you may not necessarily want coaches who may not be retained to be sent out with the task of recruiting players. From the recruits’ standpoint, however, many of their top targets were put in a worrisome situation.
“I was trying to get into contact with some of (the staff), but nobody contacted me,” said one of Hawaii’s four commits, Netane Muti. “I was worried about the whole recruiting stuff so of course I started to talk with other schools again because I wasn’t sure.
“I was just worried that I wouldn’t be able to go to college - Because that’s the only way I’ll be able to go is football.”
Hawaii has maintained only four commits for the class of 2016. Only one previous commit has flipped, Adarrus Wilson who changed his commitment to Mountain West divisional foe San Jose State.
The recruiting process can be a delicate one, and the suspended recruiting period has had damaged some relationships the staff had worked hard to build.
“It’s been pretty poor, honestly,” Kamehameha linebacker Tainoa Foster said of the communication with UH. “I haven’t heard from them in a bit. Now, I’m not too sure where everything is at as far as UH and how the recruiting is going to be.
“There was a bond before, but that bond is gone now. Right now, a little bit of my interest has been pushed toward the schools that are actually contacting me. It hasn’t gone away completely, but it has changed a bit.”
For recruits on the mainland, it has been even more troublesome. Most recruits from the state of Hawaii have at least kept tabs of what is going on at UH and heard the rumors that swirled for over a month. Some UH targets in the continental USA were not even aware that a coaching change had been made or why they were not being contacted anymore.
No notifications of the dismissal or the suspension on recruiting were made directly to any of the several recruits interviewed for this article.
“I haven’t heard too much from Hawaii lately,” linebacker recruit Kaelin Himphill of Hillsboro, Oregon said. “I’ve been (messaging) coach Jake Cookus, but the last time I could get a hold of him was on Halloween… I asked about taking an official visit up there because I really, really want to and I’ve always wanted to play for them... I have sent him my film since but I hadn’t gotten a response.
“I definitely thought they would recruit me a little harder or at least tell me if they still need a linebacker,” Himphill said. “I really wanted to come check them out and possibly play for them, but I don’t know if the situation is really working out.”
But recruits with genuine interest in UH were sure to keep their ears open for when coaches might try opening contact once again.
On Nov. 30, the University of Hawaii made the announcement that former Nevada Offensive Coordinator Nick Rolovich would be the next head coach for the Rainbow Warriors.
“I (couldn’t) wait to see who they hired,” Foster said. “I hope they come back and that offer still stands.”
Within 48 hours of the press conference, Rolovich was working the phones to try and fix the mess he inherited for the class of 2016.
“I’ve talked to coach Rolovich (yesterday),” Muti said. “It came out of nowhere. I was pretty surprised and happy at the same time, especially now that my offer still stands.”
Rolovich set up a visit to talk to Muti at his school today, and then a second visit at his home this evening. Rolovich also set up visits to his other two in-state commits, quarterback McKenzie Milton and wide receiver Kalakaua Timoteo - both three-star recruits. Rolovich also visited Charles Watson, 2017 recruit from Leilehua High school.
“He said we’re the first priority recruits,” Muti said. “He said we’d talk more about the program today.”
Other recruits are anxious to hear from the new staff as well.
“I’m really interested in the school with the connection to my family,” Himphill said. “To me, football is always going to be second to academics and I know Hawaii has good academics and I would be close to my family. That would be the best of both worlds if they still want me and offer me a spot on the team.”
Rolovich’s quick response backed up Scout.com National Director of Recruiting Brandon Huffman’s comments on the former Nevada OC as a recruiter.
“He’s tireless, energetic, has an excellent eye for talent and a very good evaluator,” Huffman said in a post on the WarriorSportsNetwork.com message board.
In response to recruiting against bigger West Coast programs, Huffman said, “He’s one of those assistants who sees the importance of being aggressive and fearless as a recruiter… He won’t back down and he’ll get after it on the recruiting trail.”
Hawaii will need all of those recruiting skills and more for the class of 2016. Chow’s final class this past offseason relied heavily on Division-I transfers and late junior college additions. If UH has back-to-back classes that are slim on incoming freshmen, it will hurt player development and make it tougher for Rolovich and his new staff to end a five-year streak of losing seasons for years to come.
UH announced earlier this week that two coaches from the previous staff will be retained, offensive line coach Chris Naeole and defensive backs coach Abe Elimimian. Elimimian showed promise as a recruiter in his first year with the program. His connections to the Los Angeles area and his overall recruiting had already helped since joining the staff.
Trey Hoskins, the only current commit that is not from Hawaii, was recruited by Naeole. Wilson, who flipped to SJSU, was recruited by Elimimian until recruitment was suspended. Wilson went from unrated recruit to a three-star receiver from the time he committed to UH to when he flipped.
Stay tuned with WarriorSportsNework.com for all the latest recruiting news leading to National Signing Day.