By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
The University of Hawaii at Hilo’s handling of the hiring of its new men’s basketball coach may have set the program back two to three years — and you can’t blame fans if they show up in small numbers this coming season to watch games.
The long, drawn-out process has taken three months to find a possible replacement for veteran coach Jeff Law, who resigned in mid-March after finishing a 6-19 season and then accepting the head coaching job at Western New Mexico University. Law spent 15 years at UHH and compiled an overall 208-188 record.
The interest in the Vulcans job rose in early May when UHH athletic director Dexter Irvin announced that there were 361 applicants and a promising talent pool with some outstanding coaches; peaked with excitement when three finalists with impressive resumes were named; dropped significantly when none of those three finalists were hired; fell even more when three more finalists with average resumes were being considered, and then hit rock bottom when UHH reportedly tried to hire a young assistant coach and couldn’t even officially announce the hiring while some media outlets throughout Hawaii and on the mainland reported his hiring for the past week.
Media reports have UHH hiring Central Washington University associate head coach GE Coleman to replace Law, but UHH hasn’t officially announced the hiring and might not until at least Monday. No one from the athletic department is talking about the hiring, under orders from the UHH administration, and the 31-year-old Coleman has been mum after letting Central Washington officials know last week that he had been offered the job and had accepted.
In fact, even Coleman’s mother was interviewed by a Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporter who broke the story last week and she talked about how thrilled she was for her son and how he’d do a quality job at UHH.
Irvin told the Tribune-Herald last week that the job had been offered to an applicant and he hoped to have a coach hired by the end of the week. But, he added, until all the papers had been processed by UH’s Human Resources Department and UHH chancellor Donald O. Straney had given final approval, he could not say anything about the potential coach.
On Saturday, Irvin said: “Nothing has been finalized yet. No one has a contract in hand. We have to follow proper procedure and we’ll announce it when we officially have a coach hired.”
However, after all of this, how can UHH officials expect Vulcan fans to be excited once the university announces Coleman or anyone else as the new coach? And why does it take three months to hire a coach? — because the delays eventually affect the school’s own student-athletes, the ones they’re supposed to be helping.
UHH needs to find a way to update and streamline the hiring process. Delays happen in most hires at UHH, unless it’s an interim appointment, and frustrates almost everyone involved. The men’s basketball job is just one example, but a glaring one that handcuffed Irvin along the way and hurt the athletic program.
“We’re going to try to streamline the athletic department’s hiring if we can in the future,” Irvin said Saturday.
Irvin had said all along that June 1 was the target date to have a new coach on board — that was late since most schools’ recruiting had already been completed — and hopefully the new mentor would be able to bring along some of his own recruits. Now, with a new coach coming on board in mid-June or later, the chances of him having some quality recruits to bring along are slim.
And with only five returnees and one signed recruit in place, the new coach will have to pull some tall rabbits out of his hat to complete his roster and hopefully have a competitive team in his first season as the Vulcans coach.
If the reports are true that Coleman is the new UHH coach, he would have been chosen for the job over Ferris State University (Mich.) interim head coach Andy Bronkema and ex-St. Martin’s University head coach Keith Cooper.
They were the second line of finalists, behind the initial trio of Humboldt State University men’s basketball coach Steve Kinder, Grand Canyon University assistant coach Mark Nelson and Panola College assistant coach Guy Beach. Irvin said he offered the job to one candidate and “wasn’t able to finalize” the deal. He also said another candidate withdrew and he did not offer the job to the other finalist.
It had been previously reported that all three finalists turned the job, but Irvin said that was inaccurate.
“After that happened, we chose to interview three additional candidates, and I offered the job to one of those,” Irvin said. “The three we added were all among the final 16 interviewed by the review committee.”
Coleman is considered a top recruiter — he brought in 17 all-conference selections and three newcomers of the year as Central Washington went 111-54 (.673 winning percentage) over the past six seasons. In the classroom, 10 players earned academic all-conference recognition. Most of the school’s recruits were from junior colleges.
The Wildcats also were among the top-10 NCAA D-II scoring teams and appeared in four straight regionals (2008-11) until last year’s 15-13 record. The 2010-11 squad captured the West Region’s top-ranking and finished fifth in the final NABC ranking.
Coleman may be the real deal and hopefully he’ll surprise everyone in his first head coaching job. But it appears Vulcans fans will need to be patient because he’ll definitely need to upgrade the team’s basketball talent if the Vuls hope to eventually develop into one of the better teams in the highly competitive PacWest Conference.
However, just remember, it’s not going to be a one-year turnaround, but more of a slow-moving process — just like the way UHH inched forward in hiring and announcing its new men’s basketball coach.
Vulcan notes: Irvin clarified Saturday that UHH’s women’s soccer head coaching position has never been a full-time position. A previous story on UHH soccer incorrectly reported the women’s position was a full-time paid job.
“The women’s coach was paid more than the men’s coach this past year, but it wasn’t a full-time paid position,” Irvin said.
The women’s and men’s positions have now been combined into one job, the Director of Soccer. UHH plans to hire that person in the near future to oversee both soccer programs. The contract for last year’s soccer coaches — Ziggy Korytoski (men) and Unity Beddingfield (women) — expired May 31.
Irvin announced last week that he had received approval from the administration to combine the two jobs into one.
Email Tribune-Herald sports editor Bill O’Rear at email@example.com.