Hawaii coach Todd Graham blames transfer portal after 12 players leave program amid mistreatment allegations

Hawaii is a football program in turmoil after player mistreatment allegations rocked a season that was already turbulent between a second-to-last division finish and bowl game canceled due to COVID-19 outbreak.

A total of 14 players — including a half-dozen starters, two out of three captains and even the head coach's son — have entered the transfer portal since November.

Head coach Todd Graham, the man at the center of those mistreatment allegations, has identified the cause of the problem, however: the transfer portal.

Hours after Hawaii defensive star Darius Muasau announced his intention to transfer, Graham and athletic director David Matlin released dual statements attributing the outflow of players to the transfer portal and nothing more.

The important part of Graham's statement:

"As a staff, we realized that the transfer portal would bring challenges to our team. The portal has been a challenge to many teams this season. We are disappointed to lose any member of our Warrior family to the transfer portal. We appreciate the contributions they have made to the team and wish them the very best in their future."

While the freedom of the transfer portal may be how a dozen of Hawaii's players have left the program since the start of November, Graham and Matlin neglected to address the why. We may have a few guesses on that count.

Hawaii players don't seem to like Todd Graham

When players are frustrated with the coaches controlling their team, it's hard to get the word out. You may see anonymous quotes or cryptic social media posts. What you do not typically see is active players venting on a public Twitter Space, as SFGate documented earlier this month.

Per the report, Graham's conduct has bordered on abuse when it comes to his players. Here are some anonymous quotes given to SFGate on what it's like to play under the veteran coach, who allegedly insults his players constantly and threatens to take away playing time if questioned.

“A lot of players want him fired, especially the starters.”

“Me and a lot of others can truthfully say Graham has killed our love and passion for football.”

“I’ve played on a 1-11 team and have never felt like this.”

“I would go as far to say it’s verbal abuse the way he talks to guys. … It’s personal. It’s not like, ‘Oh, you need to be faster.’ He’s calling guys useless, jackass and a sack of s***.”

“He’s never talked to me about anything. I’ve never shook his hand.”

“This coaching staff made me lose the love of the game.”

“I had several conversations with my parents last year about quitting, dropping my scholarship, and being done with football after playing it my whole life."

“I’m probably not coming back this year because [Graham] has three more years. … It’s not like we have the money to buy him out.”

“Most of the freshmen are either quitting or trying to transfer.”

Graham, who was fired by Arizona State in 2017 after compiling a 46-32 record in six seasons, was hired by Hawaii last year to take over a team that went 10-5 the previous season. The Rainbow Warriors went 5-4 in their first season under him with a win in the New Mexico Bowl.

This season, Hawaii finished 6-7 and fifth out of six in the West division of the Mountain West. Its fourth Hawaii Bowl berth in six years was canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak among the team.

Who is transferring from Hawaii?

Among the 12 players to enter the transfer portal (as documented by Rivals) since Nov. 1 are Muasau, the team's leading tackler, as well as starting quarterback Chevon Cordeiro, leading rusher Dae Dae Hunter and leading receiver Nick Mardner.

Graham's son, defensive back Michael Graham, entered the transfer portal on Thursday, too.

Matlin's statement claims Hawaii's number of transfers is "not unusual" compared to other schools, even in their own conference. There is a grain of truth of that, as one analyst has fellow Mountain West program Nevada at 12 outgoing transfers as well. Nevada may not be a comparison that is flattering to Hawaii, though, as the team just lost head coach Jay Norvell to Colorado State and that will naturally lead to many players transferring.

And even disregarding Nevada's circumstances, Hawaii's words may say 12 transfers is normal, but their actions obviously indicate otherwise. After all, if this number of transfers is business as usual, why release these statements?