As Todd Graham made his entrance in the lecture hall at the University of Hawaii’s athletic complex, his introduction was as grand as it was loud.
The 24th head football coach in program history was rung in as the UH band played a spirited rendition of the school’s alma mater. UH’s cheerleaders were out in force on both sides of the podium as well.
News of Graham’s hiring on Tuesday night might have come with question marks from UH fans who hoped to see continuity from the Nick Rolovich regime. During his introductory press conference on Wednesday, Graham showed a willingness to embrace his new home from start to finish. Down the line, he hopes the state can return the favor.
“To the people of Hawaii: This is your football team,” Graham said. “I’m humbled and very honored to be your coach. One of the things I told our players today is that I will work hard to earn your trust, to earn your respect.”
Graham has not coached since 2017, back when he was at the helm at Arizona State. He was the head coach at Rice, Tulsa and Pittsburgh before his stint at ASU, compiling a career record of 95-61 over 12 seasons. His coaching tree includes 12 college head coaches.
Two years removed from the profession was two years too long for the 55-year-old. Graham believes he’ll make his return from the hiatus having bettered himself as a coach.
“The last 24 months has been probably the greatest learning experience of my life,” Graham said. “I’ve missed it. Getting to meet with our players today and being able to impact young lives is something that’s important to me.”
Despite the gap, UH athletics director David Matlin saw a bright future in Graham as well.
“Legitimate candidates were reaching out from all over the country. It was awesome,” Matlin said. “Todd Graham has an impressive list of credentials. … But that is not why Todd is here. He is here for our guys.
“Todd is a players’ coach, he has an incredible knack for developing players to be the very best they can be. He shares our values of ohana. … This football team is not broken. This football team is just getting started.”
It seems as though the hire Matlin ultimately decided to make was a deviation of previous memorable moves across the department. Graham is the first head football coach without ties to the state since Fred von Appen got hired in 1996, who went 5-31 during his UH tenure.
Graham met with current UH players on Wednesday morning and expressed how excited he was to get going. The 2019 Hawaii squad won 10 games for the first time since 2010, the same year that a Graham-led Tulsa squad routed the Warriors 62-35 in the Hawaii Bowl. Nonetheless, Graham understands he isn’t walking into a rebuilding situation. Although his offensive philosophy doesn’t involve the phrase “run and shoot” in it, he believes the roster is in place to execute what he wants to accomplish on both sides of the ball.
“We’re gonna air it out. Every place I’ve been I’ve averaged almost 40 points. … We’ll play an explosive, exciting brand of football,” he said. “We’ll attack in everything that we do and play the game with great speed and physicality.”
Graham also mentioned multiple times how impressed he was with the 2019 team, especially how it had beaten two teams from the Pac-12 (a 45-38 season-opening win over Arizona and a 31-28 win over Oregon State a week later). When he saw those games, he noted how the Rainbow Warriors were the more physical team in both instances.
“Very impressed. I think we got things in place that we can do the things that we talked about. Obviously you can improve, there’s no question about that. But I like the roster,” he said. “I was as impressed with our young men this morning as much I’ve ever been impressed with any group I’ve met with. They’ve done some hard work. They’ve done some grinding here.”
Wednesday marked Graham’s first official day on the job. Given the unique timing of his hiring, he has exactly two weeks to put a signing class together, as National Letter of Intent signing day is set for Feb. 5. Additionally, as of Wednesday, no official members of his initial coaching staff have been announced at this time.
Also on the docket for Graham is his housing situation. Graham’s wife, Penni, was among those in attendance. Together, they are planning to buy a home on Oahu soon.
“We’re gonna buy a house I think east of here and it’s our forever house,” Todd Graham said.