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UH Football Coach Resigns Amid Cloud of Allegations

By Tom Hasslinger
January 15, 2022, 11:30 AM HST
* Updated January 15, 10:26 AM
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Hawai’i football coach Todd Graham resigned Friday after two seasons with the school and mounting allegations that he mistreated players and festered a toxic atmosphere around the program.

Graham’s announcement comes a week after a senate hearing was held where former players testified about alleged verbal abuse and other problematic issues within the Division I football program’s culture, ESPN reporter Adam Rittenberg detailed in a Jan. 15 article.

Athletic director David Matlin and other administrators remained supportive of Graham despite the allegations and the departures of 17 players via the NCAA’s transfer portal since November, per Rittenberg.

“Todd informed me of his decision to resign,” said UH Athletics Director David Matlin said in a press release issued Friday night. “We enjoyed many successes under his leadership even as he faced pandemic conditions, the withdrawal of Aloha Stadium, and the prohibition of any fans for nearly all his time with us. Todd’s tireless efforts as a coach have made a positive impact on many student-athletes. We have talked at length, and it is clear he has taken this action so that the football program can thrive moving forward.”

The search for the new head coach begins immediately. Because the coach resigned, he won’t be due any financial compensation outside his normal compensation that he earned, $800,000 annually. Graham was hired in January 2020 and had just completed the second year of a five-year contract.

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Graham was 11-11 in two seasons with the Rainbow Warriors and qualified for bowl games in both years. They defeated Houston 28-14 in the New Mexico Bowl on Christmas Eve in 2020 and Hawai‘i also qualified for the EasyPost Hawaiʻi Bowl in 2021. This past season, the Rainbow Warriors upset nationally ranked Fresno State and defeated Wyoming on the road for the first time since 1991, the press release stated.

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“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve as the head football coach at the University of Hawai‘i for the past two seasons,” Graham said in a statement through the university. “After much prayer and reflection with my family, I have come to the conclusion that I will step away as head coach of the Rainbow Warriors, with a very heavy heart. I want to give my thanks and appreciation to the players, staff and coaches who persevered through all the challenges of 2020 and 2021. It wasn’t easy, but they all fought the good fight and we did things the right way.”

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Former players called Graham a “tyrant” and a “hypocrite” during the senate hearing, according to the ESPN article. Graham, however, said no players were verbally abused and that he simply coaches in a demanding way.

Allegations against Graham initially emerged on Dec. 1 during a Twitter Spaces discussion organized by former players RJ Hollis and Darryl McBride Jr., Rittenberg wrote. An SFGate.com story broke the issue into the open forum, featuring multiple complaints and allegations against the coach.

“Coach Graham’s resignation is a relief,” Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, chair of the State Senate Higher Education Committee, said in a press release Saturday, Jan. 15, about the resignation. “It’s never an easy process for us as legislators to investigate and call out these types of allegations. With Coach Graham’s resignation, there is an opportunity for the athletics department to find a head coach that will be a better fit for the football program. It is my hope that the next head coach will be someone who will not only help elevate UH football to the next level, but who will also prioritize the physical and emotional wellbeing of our student athletes.”

Graham’s statement said the university did not ask him to step down, that he made the decision himself.

“Our staff poured our hearts and souls into our players and truly made a difference in their lives. I could not have asked more of their commitment, work ethic and love for our players and football program,” Graham said. “But it is clear to me that I must step away and do what is best for me and my family and my health. I honor, value and love all of my players and coaches and I wish you the very best. The university has not asked me to step down. I am leaving solely for my family and my health. We have laid a strong foundation for future success, and I will always be cheering you on!

May God bless you,” he wrote.

Tom Hasslinger
Tom Hasslinger is a journalist who lives in Kailua-Kona. Prior to joining Big Island Now, he worked as the managing editor for West Hawaii Today and deputy editor for The Garden Island newspaper on Kauai. He's worked for over 15 years as a reporter for the Oahu-based Civil Beat news outlet, as well as in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and Douglas Wyoming.
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