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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Spartans' Tomey returning 'home'

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Head coach Dick Tomey, right, and defensive coordinator Keith Burns have led San Jose State to a 2-2 record in 2008.

NATI HARNIK | Associated Press

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For Dick Tomey, the part-time resident, Hawai'i is a "special place" that still "feels like home."

For Tomey, the San Jose State head football coach, however, the return Saturday against the University of Hawai'i, lacks some of the "special meaning" it once had.

In a week in which a daughter is scheduled to give birth to a grandchild here and his team opens WAC play against UH, Tomey had no trouble separating disparate emotions.

A member of the UH Circle of Honor and once the school's most successful football coach, Tomey draws clear distinctions between a place he sees as both "home" and an opponent. "I think it (playing at UH) has lost some of its special meaning over the years just because I have been there, now, a number of times," Tomey said during a conference call yesterday.

Tomey was UH's head coach from 1977 to 1986 and his departure for Arizona came amid an uncharacteristically tearful press conference.

"The first time I came back when I was at Arizona, it was very special," Tomey said.

But, now, "we go every year." Tomey said, "My family (and wife) Nanci (are) over there now. We're about to have a grand baby. Our daughter is over there having a baby. We have two daughters living there now."

His Wildcats lost to Syracuse in the 1990 Aloha Bowl and beat UH, 27-6, in the 1998 season opener. His San Jose State team lost here in 2006, 54-17.

"I love Hawai'i and I have so many good friends there, but going back there to play is just going back there to play a team that won the conference last year, that we have a lot of respect for," Tomey said. "I love Mac (UH head coach Greg McMackin) he's a tremendous guy as I feel strongly about many of their coaches who I have a lot of connections (with). But we're just trying to win a football game 'cause we're coming off a loss that really hurt."

The Spartans (2-2) lost to Stanford, 23-10, Saturday and have lost seven in a row to UH over two head coaching reigns.

Asked about the special hold Hawai'i has on him, Tomey said, "I just like the smell of the ... I like the flowers, I like the people. It has nothing to do with the university. I just love the people. I love the diversity of the population. The feel of things. It feels like home to me, it always has. I used to say that at Arizona (and) people would get mad at me. But, it does. It feels like home. I get off the plane, I feel like I'm at home. Nanci feels the same way and our kids feel the same way. And that doesn't mean I don't love San Jose, it just means, to me, it (Hawai'i) is a special place. It is more special, in my view, because of the people than anything else."

Before getting the UH job, Tomey said he had been to Hawai'i "three or four times" on vacation and, "I'd always said, '(gosh) how do you get this job? I mean, I'd love to work here.' "

Tomey recalled, "when I took the job, nobody else wanted it because it was just ... it was a tough time in the middle of summer and all our players were quitting and they had lost to the alumni in the spring game. It was difficult."

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com.