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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 11, 2010

Time to for-Gib and even forget


By Ferd Lewis

One of the juicer tales making the rounds lately has been about the confrontation between University of Hawai'i men's basketball coaches from the past (Riley Wallace) and present (Gib Arnold) at the NCAA Final Four in Indianapolis last week.

About how, for instance, concerned friends asked a neutral party to sit between the two for the semifinal games and how, though a human DMZ ultimately wasn't necessary because Wallace chose to sit elsewhere, eventually some "pointed" words passed.

Welcome to As Mānoa Turns.

If only things could be this spirited on the court at UH again.

We're told that Arnold approached Wallace in the spirit of inclusion and detente. But Wallace accused Arnold of campaigning for the job months before Bob Nash was fired and told the young coach he probably wouldn't want to hear his thoughts at that moment. Better to wait a few months, Wallace is said to have suggested.

To know Wallace is not to be surprised at in-your-face frankness or occasional volcanic eruptions. He wears his emotions on his sleeve except when they are on the jacket he is flinging. He says what he thinks whether he always thinks before he says it or not. Recall how he went off during the press conference announcing the firing of football coach Bob Wagner in 1995.

Wallace likes to measure people, testing their mettle, be they new coaches, players, administrators or media. Especially when it comes to Rainbow basketball, which he hovers over as if it were his third child.

Mostly, Wallace feels an ownership of the program he has invested half his life in and, with the passing of Red Rocha, he has become its titular godfather.

As such, it was undoubtedly painful to see his designated successor, Nash, fired and his candidate for the replacement, Saint Mary's Kyle Smith, passed over.

Or, as Wallace put it later, "it is hard to believe Artie (Wilson) and I agree on something." Wilson, the KFVE UH basketball analyst who was often at odds with Wallace as a coach, also expressed displeasure with the choice of Arnold as Nash's successor.

Nor have they been alone. But people who were upset at the pick and who have had an opportunity to sit down with Arnold, hear his ideas, discuss his vision and feel his passion have been willing to at least give him a chance, if not support.

Witness how sportscaster Jim Leahey was agitated when Arnold's name first surfaced as a candidate. But if you saw the exchanges between them on Wednesday's Leahey & Leahey PBS TV show, you'd have thought Jim was going to buy a season ticket on the spot.

Of course, there is no law that says transitions must be accomplished with unanimity. You doubt that Wallace sought the blessing of Gib's father, Frank, when he followed him into the job in 1987. And athletic director Jim Donovan, or so the story goes, didn't get a warm pat on the back from Herman Frazier when they first crossed paths at a Fiesta Bowl event after the change in that position.

Still, when you are UH and the program is already severely challenged on any number of fronts, why add internecine struggles, too?

But there might be hope for peace in our time. "I will do anything I can for the school, the program," Wallace pledged. "I'll help Jim (Donovan). I like Jim and he needs all the help he can get."

Added Wallace with a twinkle: "I believe in for-Gibbing and forgetting ... and at my age, forgetting isn't that hard."