By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
The University of Hawaii at Hilo has posted its open men’s basketball coaching job and will accept applications until April 19. A new coach is expected to be on board by June 1.
Earlier this month, athletic director Dexter Irvin announced that veteran men’s coach Jeff Law was not returning and had accepted a similar position at Western New Mexico University. Law had been the Vulcans’ coach for 15 years and worked under Irvin the past three years.
A job description and responsibilities for the men’s basketball coach appear in the ad, which is posted on the UHH website. There is no salary listed, but the range is believed to be between $60,000 to $85,000 a year, based on similar NCAA D-II jobs around the country.
The vacancy has created a buzz and the UHH athletic department has received numerous inquiries about the job. The last time the position was open in 1998 when Law was hired by then AD Bill Trumbo, the university received about 100 applications. A similar number may roll in this time around for the NCAA Division II job.
Irvin has promised to hire the best available candidate, who should have a Hawaii tie as well as be aware of the PacWest’s level of competition, and have a recruiting knowledge/base to attract the type of players that can help the Vulcans be highly successful at the D-II level.
In the PacWest, Notre Dame de Namur head coach George Puou has Hawaii ties and built a solid program in his 12 years at the Belmont, Calif., university. NDNU, unlike most PacWest schools including UHH, does not offer athletic scholarships.
Puou was an all-state player at Kailua High School on Oahu and went on to become a standout at San Jose State in the mid-1980s, then played professionally in Japan. He was an assistant coach at D-I St. Mary’s in Moraga, Calif. before taking over at NDNU.
Puou has also recruited some Hawaii players over the years at NDNU, including former Honokaa/Academy of the Pacific guard Micah Dunhour. The 6-foot-6 sophomore started for the Argonauts this past season.
Irvin has not released the names of any interested coaches or their backgrounds. A five-person selection committee will review the applications, interview the finalists and rank the candidates and present the list to Irvin, who will make a hiring recommendation to the UHH chancellor for final approval.
Zac Zepponi, who was an assistant to Law this past season, is handling the program on an interim basis and plans to apply for the job.
There were five players on Law’s roster with eligibility remaining: juniors Derek Owens, Lucas Swanson, Brandon Thomas, Oxone-Ross Mavungu, and sophomore Mika Wong.
Law had been recruiting for UHH, however, Irvin has placed that on hold. In the meantime, Zepponi is evaluating but not signing prospects.
If UHH does not sign any recruits before the new coach comes on board June 1, the coach may have an even bigger job filling out his squad for his first season. Most recruits sign letters of intent in April, meaning there is usually less talent available later on. However, if UHH hires a junior college coach there’s a good chance that he could bring along some of his own players.
During his tenure, Law relied heavily on junior college transfers to sustain his program.
The Vulcans were 6-19 overall and 4-13 in the PacWest Conference this past year. In 15 seasons at the helm, Law compiled a 209-186 record, ranking him second on the all-time UHH list in wins behind Jimmy Yagi (218-87, nine seasons).