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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 6, 2001

For a change, UH came out a winner

 •  Coach Trapasso's pact has academic incentives

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer

He was a name figure from a marquee school who was ready to break with convention and come to the University of Hawai'i, where he could make an impact on Rainbow sports.

At least until his school sweetened the deal.

Arizona State baseball coach Pat Murphy?

Actually, it was Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch, a quarter-century ago.

Beyond the nickname from his days as a football running back, it turned out Hirsch was also crazy like a fox. He used the offer of the athletic director's job at UH and a whirlwind week of high-profile meetings with the governor and lawmakers to considerably improve his situation at the University of Wisconsin.

Over the years the number of times UH officials and fans have felt used as leverage by coaches and administrators from other schools could be counted on both hands.

So much so that when UH began to woo NFL coach June Jones in 1998, a lot of people, including a sizeable segment of the upper campus in Manoa, thought the pursuit both foolhardy and a waste of energy. That sentiment multiplied when Utah coach Ron McBride dropped out of the search to accept an improved contract to stay in Salt Lake City.

And when ASU upped the ante to keep Murphy from taking the Rainbows' baseball job, it seemed just another in a string of examples of UH being played for somebody else's profit.

But, in this case at least, there appears more to it than that. You don't maintain a six-month dialogue, which is what took place between Murphy and UH, without some real feelings about a move. You don't endure the flack he took from the stands and public — criticism so barbed his wife stopped attending games — just to hold out the possibility of a pot of gold at the end.

When Murphy first made contact with UH through Assante, Leigh Steinberg's firm, last year there was genuine interest. When he met with the UH screening committee in the winter, one committee member said, "He told us, almost word for word, that he wasn't going back to Arizona State next year." He left the impression, another said, "that wherever he was going to be next season — Tennessee, Hawai'i or wherever, it wasn't going to be ASU."

After serving under five athletic directors in seven years, Murphy was said to have grown frustrated with the turnover and a perceived lack of attention to his sport. The feeling, said a figure who talked with Murphy on several occasions, was that he was being held to the ASU standards of Bobby Winkles and the late Jim Brock and wanted a new challenge in a place where he could rebuild.

Indeed, people who spoke with Murphy during the process said he came to increasingly look for reasons to leave ASU even with improvements to Packard Stadium pledged by the administration and approved by the Board of Regents.

But when boosters put pressure on Gene Smith, an athletic director struggling to secure his own standing amid poorly performing football and basketball programs, it became imperative to keep Murphy. So much so that even Murphy said he was surprised at the size — reportedly $100,000 per season for five years — of the sweetner.

For the first time in his 17-year coaching career, the 42-year-old Murphy was in a position to guarantee a comfortable retirement, an offer UH couldn't — and wouldn't — match.

And UH ended up with Mike Trapasso, a young, energetic coach, who was the preferred choice of a segment of the screening committee all along.

For one of the few times when UH took a long shot and missed, it didn't come up empty. And, because it didn't, it need not feel betrayed.