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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Tomey back where heart is

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Columnist

If you want to know where Dick Tomey's heart has always been as a football coach, reflect on these numbers:

In 40 years of coaching, the 64-year-old Tomey says he has seen exactly 16 NFL regular-season games in person, and 15 of them came last season when he was on the San Francisco 49ers' staff.

So it shouldn't have been a surprise yesterday when the announcement came that Tomey, the University of Hawai'i's winningest head coach, was headed back to college again, this time as assistant head coach and defensive ends coach at the University of Texas.

It is a job that now finds him reunited with and alongside long-time protege, Duane Akina, the Longhorns' co-defensive coordinator, who assisted Tomey at UH and Arizona.

While the NFL is where Tomey cashed some of his biggest paychecks, college is where his passion has been. Always was and, you suspect, always will be, even after they tear the whistle off his neck some day.

In talking about the NFL, Tomey says all the right things, as he is particularly adept. He says he enjoyed his one-year experience in the pros, had fun, etc.

But talk college football — the games, the players, the coaches, the stadiums — and his blue eyes light up instantly. The smile widens and you know you're going to be there awhile because he's talking about something held dear. Not just a vocation.

Indeed, it was revealing to sit next to Tomey on a Sunday airplane flight during football season, watching him devour the sports sections from every newspaper he got his hands on, examining the stories and statistics on every college football game, Division I-A on down, yet giving only a cursory glance to the stories and headlines of the NFL games.

In 24 years as a college head coach, Tomey's talent had been as a motivator and his calling card was hard-nosed defense. You don't go 63-46-3 at UH or 95-64-4 at Arizona, a couple out-of-the-mainstream programs where blue chippers have been few and far between, on just Xs and Os.

But what has long defined him has been the attachment to his players. And you suspect the ties came easier in college than in the pros.

At Texas, where they have everything money can buy, except recent wins over Oklahoma, Akina and Tomey are charged with changing the defensive fortunes immediately.

"They have huge expectations here," Tomey said. "But I've met my players and I can't wait to get going."

Tomey is back in college and, apparently, just as enthusiastic as when he began as a young graduate assistant for Bo Schembechler.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.