Barring a COVID-19 cancellation, a new chapter begins for both Todd Graham and the University of Hawaii football program on Saturday.
Graham will make his long-awaited UH debut when the Rainbow Warriors take on Fresno State at 1:30 p.m. HST. Following Nick Rolovich’s departure to Washington State, Graham was introduced as the program’s 24th head coach on Jan. 22.
[Latest stories from Hawaii’s Sports Station — KHON2 Sports]
In the months since, the ongoing pandemic has obstructed many of the team’s plans. The ‘Bows didn’t hold a single spring practice and was only given one month’s notice ahead of their 2020 season. Following the Mountain West’s announcement of an eight-game conference-only season on Sept. 24, UH’s fifth team practice was stopped early and the team temporarily suspended all football activities following positive COVID-19 tests within the team on Sept. 30. After piecing together a shortened fall camp, the Rainbow Warriors departed for the mainland on Thursday afternoon.
By now, Graham and his team are no strangers to adapting on the fly.
“Just grateful. Grateful for the opportunity. I told our players that,” Graham said. “Nobody cares what you did last year or last week. I love this sport because you gotta go out and earn it every day. These guys have worked extremely hard, our staff has worked extremely hard in a difficult circumstance but it’s the same for everybody. Now, there’s different areas of the country that…it’s not all the same but everybody’s in this circumstance and it’s how you look at things. Do you look at things as obstacles or opportunities?”
Hawaii is Graham’s fifth different school as a college head coach. He has yet to coach a game since the 2017 Sun Bowl, back when he was at the helm at Arizona State. Delays that came with the COVID-19 pandemic were enough of a wait for him, which came after his two-year break from coaching. The 55-year-old had previously coached for 30 straight seasons at the high school and college levels.
“The word that would come to mind for me is so grateful that I get an opportunity to coach these young men. For me just selfishly, in the years I took off, it really was a great reflection. I would’ve never done it voluntarily, I can tell you that, but it was probably the best thing I’ve done in my life because it taught me how blessed I am to get to do this and how fortunate and I wanted to find the right situation to fit me,” Graham said. “I’m a blue collar guy. I grew up that way and I tend to gravitate to people that like to grind, that like the physicality, and I like that in these kids here and this program is one that I think has been a smooth transition for me because the embrace that. I like the blue collar mentality of these guys so man, I’m just grateful.”
Graham takes over for a program that won eight games in 2018 and ten games in 2019. Much of the 2019 team’s core returns in 2020, but like Graham, the ‘Bows are starting fresh on Saturday.
“I just want it to get here. It’s like having Christmas canceled for two years straight. I’m so ready for it to get here. It’s unbelievable and to have it taken away and think this was no way gonna happen, when it got postponed, I thought no way. I didn’t even think we’d play in the spring. I thought it was gonna be so difficult to pull off,” Graham said. “I’m grateful to have the opportunity to go out and I’m not grateful to show up either. I’m grateful for the chance to go out and compete and help these kids compete and be the best and help them compete to be champions.”