When University of Hawaii football offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach GJ Kinne departed for UCF, head coach Todd Graham was not short of intriguing options for his replacement.
Names such as Taylor Kelly and Mike Bercovici had fit the Kinne mold of former Graham quarterbacks who went on to become coaches themselves. Ultimately, Graham decided to promote from within, naming his son, Bo, UH’s new OC and QB coach.
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Bo Graham, who was Hawaii’s running backs coach and passing game coordinator in 2020, has 12 years of coaching experience under his belt, mostly working under his father at the schools he coached. The 2021 season will be his first year as an offensive coordinator at the college level, and it’s a challenge the younger Graham feels primed for.
“It means the world to me. I think in my career ultimately this was a goal of mine, something that I wanted to reach. I think having this responsibility, this is gonna be a challenge for me,” Bo Graham told KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello. “I’ve gotten a lot of background being a position coach specifically in this offense. I’ve seen other guys do it and take that role and I’ve always thought on the back of my mind whenever I get my opportunity, this is how I’m going to do it so it’s a challenge for me, I think I’m well-prepared for it.
“I’ve been around several different guys to see there’s different ways going about it and I think all of that’s prepared me for this opportunity to step up and be a leader.”
Many facets of the 2020 pandemic-laden college football season were both unpredictable and uncontrollable. For Todd Graham and his coaching staff, being brand new to the UH-Manoa campus only exacerbated the degree of difficulty in running a program as it related to getting to know the team’s personnel and installing new schemes, among other factors.
With no spring ball and an abbreviated preseason camp, the Rainbow Warriors managed to go 5-4 in the 2020 season with no COVID-related game cancelations and a win over Houston in the New Mexico Bowl.
A big part of the team’s success in 2020 was the emergence of Calvin Turner, who had 1,201 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdowns during the season. Turner, who was a quarterback at FCS school Jacksonville University, was originally brought in by former UH coach Nick Rolovich to be a slotback. Under Bo Graham’s guidance, Turner was converted into a running back that both coaches and scouts believe has a pro future.
“I’m looking forward to the day when we no longer have to talk about last year because last year was just a real outlier. I mean, being a new staff, trying to transition the offense. … Having to transition and make those changes with no spring football, with limited fall camp. First there was no season, then there was a season and there was a lot of damage control, getting to know each other as a staff, being gone for 17 weeks, no training,” Bo Graham recalled. “The foundation of what we do from an offensive standpoint, we want to snap the ball as many times as possible. In order to do so you have to be in tremendous shape, so not having that training and having that training now obviously is gonna give us a chance but not having that opportunity to build and grow and then kind of just being thrown together, I couldn’t imagine a more challenging situation.
“So how close did we get? I think there were some things we were able to do effectively. There were some changeups you saw in the bowl game. … There was a lot of personnel changes that we needed to make. Recruiting is going to solve a lot of those problems as well. And then when you have a spring ball, you’re able to work with guys, you’re able to feel out who’s who, specifically at the wide receivers position. We’re trying to figure out who’s who as we’re going along in the season so I think our training has given us a chance. I think recruiting, being able to have guys in the right position and having depth at those positions will give us a better chance going forward, and then everyone having just an overall understanding of what we’re trying to do. Time and practice, I think those things matter.”
Despite everything that was out of his hands in the 2020 season, Bo Graham is ready to attack what he’ll be able to control moving forward. For the 2021 season, it means being handed the keys to the Hawaii offense. It’s a responsibility he believes he’s earned and vows not to take lightly.
“I’ve always been a guy that has operated with a chip on my shoulder and I tell the guys that that’s what I love about this place — I feel like a lot of these guys have chips on their shoulder,” Bo Graham said. “They have something to prove. It’s not about having the nicest stuff, like for instance you look at other teams and it’s all about facilities and it’s all about this and that and these guys, they’re all about each other and it’s the team. That’s the kind of guys I want to coach.
“I want the highest expectations. I don’t want a job where mediocrity is tolerated, I want to be held to the highest standards and I want to exemplify to my guys what my attitude and effort, how I want them to operate. That’s what I’ve told them ever since I’ve been here, I’ve opened up my heart and I’ve tried to give them everything I have every single day I pour into these guys and all I do is try to set the example, ‘Hey, here’s how you operate’ and if they can see me as a leader doing that and I can rub off on them, then that’s how leadership works.”
The Rainbow Warriors have not released an official start date to Spring Training Camp, although a “late March start” is anticipated.