January 7th, 2022 is a day that will live in Hawaii Football infamy.
Friday afternoon at the state capital and online, the Hawaii State senate's Ways and Means, and Higher Education Committees met to discuss the future of University of Hawaii Head Football Coach Todd Graham.
The two-hour meeting featured questions from the committees to Graham, University of Hawaii President David Lassner, Athletic Director David Matlin and Board of Regents member Randolph Moore.
But the crux of Friday afternoon's proceedings was the emotional testimony given by a collection of former players from this year's team and their families, Hawaii football alumni and fans alleging verbal abuse and negligence in regards to Graham's team's physical and mental well-being.
"I try to see the good in everybody and give people chances, but he is hands-down the worst guy I've ever met in my life," former UH linebacker and Kapolei graduate Leonard Lee said.
"This program was built with a special culture that you can't find anywhere else," former UH quarterback and Farrington graduate Justin Uahinui said. "Graham killed that culture and passion and drive in many players like myself."
UH defensive lineman Derek Thomas revealed that despite the team asking Matlin to find a replacement to former UH head coach Nick Rolovich that had Hawaii ties and brought a family culture, Matlin did "the exact opposite of what they wanted."
Thomas later admitted that he appreciated Graham's Christian emphasis in the program, but was upset at how Graham "stripped the Hawaii football team of its culture" while boasting of "his money and nice house."
The most powerful testimony of the day came from the parents of former Kaiser, University of Arizona and UH offensive lineman Michael Eletise. Eletise's family added that despite having to medically retire due to concussions suffered during football, that the University of Hawaii did not offer any medical help to their son. A teary-eyed Nofoaiga Eletise mentioned how his son is dealing with depression and mental illness as a result of his time at UH.
These stories are but brief anecdotes among over an hour of testimony from concerned former players.
Graham, who just completed the second year of a five-year contract, denied claims of abuse, but accepted responsibility for the future success of the program.
"No one has been verbally abused. I've actually come in and tried to address some of the language things, obviously we're not perfect," Graham said. "I do not think we have a toxic environment in our locker room. I am 100% accountable for what goes on in our program."
And although members of the Hawaii football community are urging for change, athletic administration stood firm: Todd Graham will be Hawaii's head coach for the indefinite future.
When asked by Senator Glenn Wakai if the university would buyout Graham's contract if they had the money, Matlin said, simply "no."
"I believe in people and I believe we need to continue working to get better," he said.
Along with Matlin's doubling-down on support of Todd Graham, University President Lassner appeared at odds with the committee several times during the proceedings. Initially he stated was caught off-guard and unprepared to speak on issues in regards to the UH athletic budget when senators pointed out the agenda directly states the first item as "the budget." Then, after mostly damning testimony against head coach Graham was given, Lassner fired back to the committee that "only one side of the story has been told" and that testimony was "cherry picked" to promote a case against Graham.
Towards the latter half of the meeting, Senator Wakai asked coach Graham directly how he could explain alleged cases of abuse. AD Matlin interjected, echoing similar sentiments in regards to "cherry picked" testimony. In a tense exchange, senator Kurt Fevella called out the UH administration for "not understanding the importance" of the mental health and safety of players, and for Matlin speaking out of turn.
"This is not a popularity contest, they were revealing disturbing things. We have some mental health issues and you're not understanding right now," Fevella said. "They are scarred. Their families are scarred...When senator Wakai asks a question, let the coach talk."
Attention now turns to the University's Board of Regents, a group that has the power to overturn recent decisions regarding the school's athletic department if they see fit. Any decision against AD Matlin and President Lassner, however, appears unlikely at this point.
Lone Board of Regents member Randolph Moore emphasized that it was not the Board's responsibility to asses the quality of the football coach, but admitted that it would consider discussing the current coaching situation during its late January meeting.
When pressed on whether this matter was urgent, Moore said, "I do not see an urgency in the next two weeks for the board to do something."