By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
University of Hawaii at Hilo athletic director Dexter Irvin will resign from his position effective Dec. 31 to take a similar job at the College of Southern Nevada, ending a four-year tenure that produced sweeping change at the 12-sport NCAA Division II school.
According to a UHH press release Tuesday, Irvin developed a gender equity plan, implemented official audits, created an operations manual, and established women’s basketball, and men’s and women’s soccer as officially recognized sports with the hiring of full-time, permanent coaches.
The release also stated, “During Irvin’s tenure fundraising revenue and corporate sponsorships also increased notably.”
“Before I got here, there was less than $50,000 in terms of corporate sponsorships, but there were other areas of fundraising,” said Irvin, who was hired Sept. 1, 2009, replacing Kathy McNally. “In 2011-12, as far as corporate sponsorships, cash and in-trade, it was $145,000. In 2012-13, it was $310,000. This year, it’s $247,000.
“We put together a nice program. The easiest thing to sell in life is the student-athlete. They represent the best in all of us. They have potential for success. I still believe that exists here.”
On UHH’s website, Irvin’s biography states that he “increased fundraising and contributions by over $500,000 per year” at Dixie State, where he was the athletic director for 10 years and the women’s basketball coach from 2001 to ’05.
Irvin also oversaw Dixie State transition from a junior college to full Division II membership. The Red Storm are a member of the Pacific West Conference, along with the four Hawaii schools: UHH, BYU-Hawaii, Chaminade and Hawaii Pacific.
One of his first major decisions was to move Vulcan basketball games from Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium to UHH Gym, creating a more “college friendly environment.” Irvin’s next significant change was dumping UHH’s old circular logo for an updated model for marketing purposes.
Irvin’s first on-campus priority at UHH was establishing organization, instituting a dress code and requiring employees to follow their job description.
“Priority No. 1 is organization,” Irvin said in an October, 2009 article. “It was a dysfunctional organization with people doing other people’s jobs. They were doing jobs that weren’t part of their job description. They were trained to do something, but were doing something else.
“We’ve made it more efficient and we now have the concept of return and report. If you do a job, you report what you’ve done. People understand that you have responsibility and accountability.”
The sweeping change also applied to the coaching staff as well. Out of the 12 coaches, only three are still at UHH: men’s golf coach Earl Tamiya, women’s golf coach Jim DeMello and cross country coach Jaime Guerpo.
First-year director of soccer Lance Thompson almost led the UHH women to the program’s first NCAA postseason berth. The Vulcans finished 10-4-2, including 7-4-1 in the PacWest, tied for third.
That was a bright spot for Irvin with his new hire. On the flip side of the coin, he suffered a public relations nightmare when he was impaired by the University of Hawaii’s bureaucratic system from releasing men’s hoops coach GE Coleman’s name.
What made the situation far worse was Honolulu Star-Advertiser columnist Ferd Lewis tracked down Coleman’s mother, confirmed the hire, and broke the story. Despite being in a printed publication and read out on radio, Irvin, under red-tape protocols, still couldn’t release a statement on his new coach until weeks later.
“That was frustrating without question,” he said. “The system we have here is a very conservative system. It restricts the ability to function as well as you could.
“I’ve run into a glass ceiling in some respects. It’s a good time for me and the institution as well. It’s not something that’s unique to athletics. Everyone struggles a little within the framework and happenings of higher education. That’s not any different from our situation, except ours was on the front page occasionally.”
In that earlier two-part Tribune-Herald series, Irvin described himself as a builder of programs. But less than two years on the job, he had to suspend men’s and women’s cross country, and cheerleading to balance the athletic department’s budget. Community support saved women’s cross country; men’s cross country and cheerleading have not returned.
Despite the headache of trying to cut through red tape and jumping through hoops with his hands tied, Irvin pointed out he and wife Connie have enjoyed their time in Hilo. He also maintained his dry sense of humor throughout a 30-minute interview.
“I’m 55 years old, going on 90. My wife and I love it here,” he said. “The people here have treated us very, very well. Every school has its issues. The grass is not always greener somewhere else, but everything considered it’s a good time for us to go.”
Irvin will be in charge of only two sports at CSN, where the junior college is most famous for being Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper’s former home. Besides baseball, the Coyotes also have softball, where Callen Perreira, the former UHH coach, will be entering his third season.
“There’s a lot less red tape. I’ll be a full-time AD for two programs,” Irvin said about going from the NCAA to the National Junior College Athletic Association. “With my personality, I’ll have a chance to construct something unique and wonderful. That’s what exists without the burden of going through the muck.
“I’m looking to capitalize on the success they had. They won a (baseball) national championship when I was at Dixie. We won it the year before. They had success and I know what that potential is.”
Irvin’s first order of business is building a softball facility, likely music to Perreira’s ears. (The two never met.) Then the next goal is to establish a basketball program, which could turn into a feeder system to four-year colleges, like UHH.
There’s no gym at the school, where UNLV baseball coach Tim Chambers laid the Coyotes’ foundation, winning seven conference titles, and the juco World Series championship in 2003. He’s also Irvin’s friend and let him know about the AD opening.
“He knew I was good at building programs and encouraged me to look at it,” Irvin said. “It’s a growth opportunity and I’ll be closer to my family and children. That’s a big pull. I’ve got 16 grandkids. The position has been open nine months and I heard about it two weeks ago.”
The UHH release also stated, “Pending final approval in accordance with UH System policies, Timothy Moore, founding director, campus recreation department, will serve as interim athletic director, effective January 1, 2014.”
Pam Knox is the UHH associate AD/senior woman administrator/compliance officer. Kallen Miyataki, who is no longer listed as an associate AD on the school’s website, is the interim UHH baseball coach.
Irvin is also a devoted Los Angeles Dodgers fan. He won’t need to catch a plane to watch a live game. He’s already got his GPS coordinates locked in.
“Dodger Stadium is only three hours away,” he said.
Diamond in rough
When Irvin was in St. George, Utah, Dixie State won four NJCAA national titles: two in women’s soccer (2000, ’03), and one each in men’s basketball (2002) and baseball (2004).
UHH golfer Dalen Yamauchi finished 76th at the NCAA Division II national championships in May. On a smaller scale, the Vulcans softball team won a share of the conference title, but lost to Irvin’s old school in May at the West Regional in St. George. The volleyball team reached the West Regional in 2011, but was also bounced early.
But more highlights were hard to come by, and UHH’s funding took a dip. In his first year, Irvin had a budget of $3.6 million. Now, it’s $3 million with expenses still climbing, and the Vulcans on the hook for raising one-third that amount.
“Four or five years ago, we had six or seven schools in the league. It’s 13 now and we’re looking at 15,” he said. “We’re in the bottom third of offering scholarship money. If things go as planned, we’ll be close to the bottom next year or at the bottom. With the growth of the conference last year, we were not funded. We’ve got additional expenditures coming, the only place to resolve that is taking out scholarship money. I’m certain additional funding will be limited.
“You want to give your guys the chance to compete. We’ve hired a wonderful staff and a great group of coaches. I think my failure is not providing them with the resources to be successful. It’s frustrating to not get that done. It’s because of a combination of things.
“At most institutions, the student fee goes to athletics. We don’t have that. I think for any program, you want to be good at what you’re doing. If it’s astronomy, let’s be good at astronomy. If it’s athletics, let’s be good at that.”
That takes a cupboard full of money, especially when convincing someone from the mainland to play in small-town Hilo on less than a full-ride scholarship.
“You can only sell Hawaii so much. We have unique things here,” Irvin said. “But at the end of the day, if it costs more money out of pocket, the less chance you have of getting that young person to come to school here.
“Our school is a diamond in the rough. That’s why I came here. The best and worst thing to have is potential. My regret is we weren’t able to reach our full potential. But in terms of our coaches, I feel we’ve got a really confident, steady group.
“Obviously in his first year, Lance proved that you can come in and make a difference, just by getting ‘it’ if that makes any sense. It’s easy to focus on what you don’t have. Everybody does that. Lance is a great example. He took what was available and made the best of what he had. It’s a great lesson for everyone.”