Hawaii Football: Todd Graham, David Matlin Grilled In State Senate Meeting
An explosive scheduled meeting about Hawaii football led to more severe allegations against Graham and athletic director David Matlin.
We will see what happens.
On Friday, the Hawaii State Senate committees on Ways and Means and Higher Education held a public hearing to discuss the turmoil going on within the University of Hawaii football program. University president David Lassner was present in person and Chair of the Board of Regents Randolph Moore, Athletic Director David Matlin and Coach Todd Graham joined the meeting via Zoom. The hearing was broadcasted live on YouTube and local television, lasting over three hours.
Throughout the session, former players, parents, and some community members gave passionate testimonies sharing their concerns regarding the current state of the program and specifically head coach Todd Graham. Due to time constraints, they were not able to get through all of the testimonies that were submitted, but if you’d like to read them for yourself they are available here:
If you have followed UH’s off-season so far, a fair amount of the testimonies presented echoed what was said during the Twitter Spaces conversation that received national media attention back in early December. It was a lot to listen to and I will try to highlight what I thought stuck out.
Athletic director David Matlin kicked the hearing off by speed-reading through his written statement. Many people wanted to hear Matlin speak and this was an opportunity for him to explain his decision making process. Instead, we got a previously prepared written statement and a timeline of events. It was basically the same thing that the program posted on their Twitter account last month. It was robotic and felt like it lacked empathy for what the players who have complained had gone through.
The hosts of the Twitter Space, UH alumni RJ Hollis and Darryl McBride, gave testimonies about their experiences with the special culture that lives within the Hawaii football program and their concern that Graham has failed to accept and nurture that culture. They also spoke about the lack of alumni inclusion within the program. They want positive change and transparency from Graham and Matlin going forward.
Former walk-on Leonard Lee, who was kicked off the team two days after participating in the Twitter Space, spoke about his personal experiences dealing with coach Graham. One of the examples he gave was that walk-ons and players who did not suit up for any upcoming game had to watch the teams “Rock Walk” ceremony from behind the fence. Graham used COVID protocols as an excuse even though they were allowed to practice with over a hundred players on the same field. Lee went as far as to say that Coach Graham is “hands down the worst guy I’ve ever met”.
Justin Uahinui, a Farrington High School product and walk-on quarterback who eventually earned a scholarship under former coach Nick Rolovich, said he was cut from the team after failing to comply with the team’s vaccine mandate. He said that Coach Bo Graham told him to either get the shot or sign a religious exemption that Uahinui believed was written to protect the university and not the players. He said that he initially refused to sign the exemption and by the time he did, he was notified by a member of the equipment staff that he had been cut.
Recent graduate Derek Thomas spoke about the hiring process after Coach Rolovich left for Washington State. He said that Matlin gathered the team and asked them what they wanted in a new coach. Their two responses were that they wanted someone with Hawaii ties and that they wanted someone personable. He said that Todd Graham was the exact opposite of what the team wanted.
Tina also claims that Penni Graham personally messaged Derek…received negative glares/behavior from Graham/coaches…culture from the past has changed.
Shared story about how Derek played Ukelele and Graham told him it was "f-ing annoying"…
— Keith Demolder (@KeithDemolder) January 8, 2022
further adds Graham said "Hawaii is a third world country…" for not having Dr. Pepper in the vending machines.
Reveals further vulgar language of calling players a word that I will not tweet…but you can guess.
— Keith Demolder (@KeithDemolder) January 8, 2022
State senator Kurt Fevella says he received a letter that accused Graham of calling Black players "porch monkeys" and Polynesians "pineapple pickers."
Fevella: "Did you ever talk to players like that?"
Todd Graham: "Absolutely not. I would never do that."
— Marc Delucchi (@maddelucchi) January 8, 2022
One particularly heartbreaking testimony was given by the parents of former offensive lineman Michael Eletise. Eletise medically retired last spring and his parents said it was due to serious head trauma that led to depression. Eletise reached out to his position coach Sam Bennett for help on multiple occasions, but there was no follow-through from the coaching staff and Eletise never received any help or counseling from the school. His parents have been paying for him to see specialists and have tried to reach out to the school to get some help from insurance companies without success. They said football has changed their son forever. Eletise has been offered graduate assistant coaching positions at other universities but wants nothing to do with the game of football right now.
The most interesting testimony came from prominent Honolulu-based lawyer Michael Green, who has no connections to the university beyond being a supporter. He talked about the hiring process which brought Graham to the islands and how Matlin either did no research or ignored the fact that Arizona State was willing to pay Graham $12.8 million to part ways.
Green also tried to draw a comparison between two very different scenarios, the first being Chevan Cordeiro leaving the UNLV press conference in tears because he knew he had to leave the program versus the late Colt Brennan in tears during his press conference because he was proud to be returning to the program for another year.
Green ended by saying that he has been approached by multiple players’ families to file a lawsuit against the university. He personally would not be taking on the case but warned that someone eventually will. He said that Matlin should resign from his position and that if the university needed the money to buy out Graham’s contract, there is a group of Hawaii businessmen ready to make that happen.
After the testimony was over university president David Lassner expressed displeasure with the reality that everything said in the session was “cherry picked” and only negative testimonies were given. Senator Donna Mercado Kim quickly corrected Lassner and told him that this hearing was about the welfare of the student athletes that have complained. In defense of the four UH representatives being questioned — Lassner, Moore, Matlin, and Graham– it would have been informative to have heard some testimony defending coach Graham. We have not heard any players come to his defense and the public deserves to hear that side of the story, as well.
After reading through 86 pages of testimonies, I saw that a few current players and former players from his stops at Tulsa and Arizona State had submitted positive reviews of the coach about how his disciplinary coaching style has helped them become better men, but the majority of what was submitted echoed what was said during the session.
Randolph Moore, the chair of the Board of Regents, was asked by Senator Kim how much the board knew about the situation and what they thought of it. Moore said he could not answer for the rest of the Board because they have not met since before all of this blew up. Kim questioned if he thought the mental health and well-being of the student-athletes were a good enough reason to call an emergency meeting.
Matlin had another opportunity to speak and said that some of the things said in the testimonies were not true. He then read another robotic prepared statement on the timeline of events and what he and Todd Graham have planned to do to help with the communication problems between the players and the coaching staff. Matlin took some of the blame by acknowledging that he had not done enough to help Graham adjust to the Hawaiian culture. He was then asked by Senator Wakai if he had the money to buy out Todd Graham’s contract, would he? Matlin replied “No”. Seems like Matlin is going to go down with the sinking ship and honestly, he deserves to. He is the one responsible for hiring a coach that nobody wanted.
The senators questioned Todd Graham himself about all of the players entering the transfer portal and he gave the typical used car salesman answers we’ve heard throughout this whole process: “there are thousands in the transfer portal”, “this is the new landscape of college football”, “I love all my players”, “we’ve got to be better” and, my personal favorite, his story about how his coaches played such a huge role in his life and that is why he got into coaching. Graham also had the audacity to say that it is tough to recruit with so much negativity surrounding the program, which leads me to wonder if he realizes that he is the cause of all this negativity and, contrary to his and Matlin’s stance, whether he actually has the capacity to change. It might be time for him to look at the man in the mirror and maybe talk to God about how he can walk the talk and be a better person.
Have heard from several coaches tonight reacting to the Todd Graham situation at Hawaii. This was from one of them: “He’s a bad human being. The truth is finally coming out on him.” https://t.co/EaBsxtMrpi
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) January 8, 2022
In conclusion, the public senate hearing was an ugly, one-sided attack on Matlin, Graham and the higher leadership at the university. In some ways, it was unfair that we did not hear the other side of the story, but at the same time it doesn’t seem like there is much of a story on the other side to tell. The reason why the Senate has gotten involved in the first place is because all we’ve received from the University were generic written statements from Matlin and Graham about working to improve and being better. Matlin proved that he can’t answer the tough questions and, even in a public forum, continued to rely on prepared statements while Graham gave us the same BS he’s been feeding us for over a month. We will see in the coming weeks if the state senate will hold people accountable for what has taken place.
One thing that we can do as fans is to support the players and the positive members of the coaching staff who have stuck it out. This is already an awful situation to be in whether they support Graham or not and they should not feel the brunt of the anger from the community. Is there trouble in paradise? Yes, but it is still paradise and these are still our Rainbow Warriors.
As always, let’s go Bows!