He didn't want to be a turncoat
|||Wallace to step down|
So tight was the grip of his hands on the podium's edge that, at times, Riley Wallace's knuckles appeared to turn white.
He bit the lip on his volcanic temper with such force you thought he might draw blood.
As he promised athletic director Herman Frazier he would, Wallace was ever the good soldier at the press conference where he affirmed an intention to leave the University of Hawai'i head coaching basketball job of 20 years on April 30 as his contract specifies.
"I said I would go peacefully," Wallace said.
A remarkable promise — and even more astonishing follow through — by a man known for flinging his jacket during sideline temper tantrums and stomping his feet on the court in protesting officials' calls. Wallace's place in the UH press conference hall of fame was locked up eight years ago when his ferocity in challenging the firing of football coach Bob Wagner almost led to his own dismissal.
So uncharacteristically even-keeled was yesterday's performance that the Rainbow Warriors' winningest coach even joked that he had sedated himself by borrowing a couple of numbing pain pills from a colleague.
After all that, it was hardly necessary for Wallace to speak of his passion for the UH basketball program he had resuscitated. His willingness to step aside gracefully for the sake of what he had built and so not as to cloud the candidacy of long-time assistant Bob Nash by the ongoing cold war with Frazier, said a lot. Especially when many among his family and friends had counseled against accommodating Frazier's wishes for such a public pronouncement.
Just in case Frazier didn't grasp the nuances of the gesture from 3,000 miles away in Arizona, where he is attending the Fiesta Bowl as part of the UH and Western Athletic Conference delegation, or get the report from monitors on hand, Wallace said, "the next coach at (UH) should be sitting right there, Bob Nash," who was in the third row.
Wallace made clear he regretted signing the contract with the mandatory exit clause that brings about his departure. He left no doubt he was not leaving wholeheartedly. "I have the energy to coach. I'm not retiring today by any means. I still have a lot of life. I still have a passion for my team."
And with a subtlety that has often eluded him, Wallace managed to get in a couple of digs at his boss, whom he went out of his way not to call by first name and whom he mentioned as being "at Arizona State." The inference was clear that he liked it that way on this day, especially.
Mostly, Wallace toed the line he and Frazier had agreed upon in a meeting earlier in the month. Though, after the deed had been done, Wallace flashed a rebellious grin and allowed, "You know, I thought about bringing that green coat and throwing it one more time."
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8044.