What had looked like a promising season with realistic optimism and tangible improvements has very quickly begun to unravel. The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, losers of four straight games and a 2-4 record overall, just had their roughest week so far in this teetering 2017 season.
It began with the surprising resignation of offensive line coach Chris Naeole. Though conspicuous in his absence during the week, Naeole chose to leave the program on Friday, releasing a vague but pointed statement about philosophical differences relating to disciplinary matters. Player suspensions had been prevalent in the previous few games, but Naeole didn’t make it clear what his philosophical differences were, or with whom he differed.
But it seems likely that it was at least partially connected to head coach Nick Rolovich. Naeole was a holdover from the Norm Chow era, so he wasn’t someone Rolovich specifically brought in when taking over the program in 2016.
His sudden departure came as a bit of a shock, especially given his pedigree and connection to the islands. He was a high school and college star, enjoyed a long NFL career and carries a more impressive on-field resume than anyone else on the staff.
Coaching shakeups are always a story and while he has inspired a good amount of confidence from both his players and the UH community, Rolovich is currently in the toughest stretch of his short tenure. Following the Naeole resignation, Hawaii lost to previously winless Nevada on Saturday, 35-21. It was Rolovich’s first trip back to his prior place of employment against a team that has struggled since his departure. But the ‘Bows were unable to capitalize on a number of opportunities and fell to 1-3 on the road in 2017.
All of a sudden, this week’s home date with San Jose State (1-6, 0-3 Mountain West) has become a critical game for Hawaii’s season. A win would send them into the bye week with some renewed confidence. A loss would put them at 0-4 in conference heading into an Oct. 28 game with unbeaten and nationally ranked San Diego State (6-0, 2-0), in which Hawaii will be a large underdog.
But more than the team’s record or bowl eligibility, this week could give an indication of the team’s personality. Coming out sharp and ready to go against a very beatable opponent can be a stepping stone. Coming out flat or appearing unprepared could indicate a modicum of chaos within the program.
Before the season, I expected Hawaii to be competitive in the the Mountain West and push for a winning record. They have been quite competitive in losses to Wyoming and Nevada, but it’s been the untimely mistakes — turnovers, penalties and third downs — which have hurt their results on the scoreboard.
The offensive playmakers have mostly done their jobs, but it’s been those crucial plays at the most inopportune times that have derailed their efforts. I still feel there is genuine belief within the locker room, but the execution in key spots needs to meet that same level for there to be a turnaround.
We’ll see how they fare on Saturday. I wouldn’t have pegged this game as being a meaningful one on the schedule, but it suddenly feels like the defining moment of 2017.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.