There is delicious irony, even though this is not a column intended to bash any area or specific town. If you take it that way, you have not been to both places.
But when UT head coach Mack Brown and his coaching staff of the North team arrive in Maui this Sunday for a week of preparation for the Hula Bowl, one is naturally struck with the juxtaposition of the image of the blue Pacific versus a hot summer day in Lubbock, Texas. That is where our story begins.
In 1961, the American Football Coaches Association, better known as the AFCA, started a summer football game called the Coaches All-American game, and for 15 years, between 1961-76, the game matched all-star college players divided into teams from the East and the West. It started in Buffalo, N.Y., then moved to Atlanta and finally found a home from 1970-76 in Lubbock.
It was in Lubbock that the game flourished. Crowds exceeding those at the other two sites drew an average of 40,000 for the seven years on the plains of West Texas. In its heyday, the game began to rival the interest in the long-standing College All-Star Game in Chicago, which from 1934-76 matched the NFL (or later Super Bowl) Champions against a team comprised of the best college seniors in the country.
However, as the NFL preseason camps swallowed the summer, the two games both ceased after the Pittsburgh Steelers shut out the College All-Stars, 24-0, before 52,895 at Soldier Field in Chicago. In Lubbock, the West beat the East, 35-17, in front of 36,504 fans on June 19, 1976.
When Grant Teaff took over leadership of the AFCA, he had fond memories of the game and its success. What he knew about that was, Lubbock, which hadn't had overwhelmingly wonderful weather in the summer, was not an operative option in the dead of winter.
At that moment, the enterprising Mr. Teaff hooked up with another enterprising fellow named Leonard Klompus — the guy who headed bowl games of Hawaii, which included the well-respected Hula Bowl. In 1997, the first AFCA Hula Bowl was held in Honolulu. In 1998, they moved the game to the island paradise of Maui and have packed the 23,000-seat War Memorial Stadium since.
There is a special irony in this year's game. Joining Brown on his staff are two coaches whose teams won the NCAA Division I-AA and Division II National Championships — Jack Harbaugh of Western Kentucky and Brian Kelly of Grand Valley State — as well as former Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum and UT assistants Greg Davis and Duane Akina (himself a former Hawai'i star prep quarterback). Linebacker Lee Jackson will be the lone former Longhorn in the game, and he'll be trying to defend a South squad quarterbacked by Brad Banks of Iowa, the Heisman Trophy runner-up.
For Brown and Slocum, it will be a bitter sweet pairing, for the two have become good friends since 1998 when Mack came to Texas and R.C.'s Texas A&M team surprised Kansas State to win the Big 12 title. One of the North's quarterbacks will be Kliff Kingsbury, who had great success in home games in Lubbock, but who, one would hope, had just as soon be playing on the beaches as the bleachers.
Also in the mix is Spike Dykes, the former Texas Tech head coach who recruited Kingsbury, and now helps run the game, when he's not relaxing and playing golf at Horseshoe Bay. As Spike told Mack, "retirement's great … I don't do anything and I don't start that until noon."
It is the second time in three years for Brown to coach an all-star game while at Texas. Two years ago, he coached the East-West Shrine game, and in his years at North Carolina, he was invited to coach in four postseason all-star games, including the Japan Bowl, the Hula Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game.
The game, which will kick off at 8 p.m. (CT) on Saturday, will be nationally televised by ESPN. "First of all, I believe in the principles of the AFCA, and when Coach Teaff got the organization involved with the Hula Bowl, he wanted to create a showcase of the best in college football," Brown said.
"I am looking forward to working with the players, and the coaches," Brown said. "It is a great chance to learn from the kids about other programs, and as far as Coach Harbaugh and Coach Kelly are concerned, these guys just won National Championships, so it will be great to spend some time with them and watch them work.
"Obviously, Larry (Coker) and his staff have been about as good as you can be over the last two years. It should be fun, but it is also a great opportunity to learn. I have always believed you can get a lot out of sharing ideas with other coaches."
Brown, who completed his in-home visits with most of his recruits on Thursday will return to Austin on Sunday, Feb. 2, in time for any last minute details before National Signing Day on Feb. 5.