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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Nash could use late rally by 'Bows

By Ferd Lewis

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Bob Nash

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It might not hurt for men's basketball coach Bob Nash to step across the hall in the University of Hawai'i athletic department in search of pointers from his football counterpart, Greg McMackin, before leaving on this week's road trip.

McMackin, it will be remembered, rallied a reeling 2-6 team to four victories in its final five games last season. It likely did not have a bearing on whether McMackin kept his job but, in Nash's case, more and more it is looking like what the Rainbow Warriors do down the stretch will.

McMackin was only in the second year of an original five-year contract when his team slumped. Nash is in the third season of a three-year deal extended to four.

And, of course, the buyout on McMackin would have been $1.1 million per season to Nash's estimated $240,000. In a department that has been operating in the red for seven years, you do the math.

So, as the Rainbow Warriors hit the road for two of their final seven regular-season games, lugging a 9-14 record and five-game losing streak, a finishing flourish might be Nash's best and last-ditch argument for finishing out the contract.

The hope is that the 'Bows can ignite one of those late-season runs like former coach Riley Wallace used to charge into the Western Athletic Conference Tournament and a postseason berth aboard.

But that scenario is becoming a long shot, appearing more distant by the day. Just getting into the WAC Tournament borders on a prayer shot for the 'Bows, who are 2-8 and tied for last in the conference with four road games and two tough home games (Utah State and Nevada) remaining. Only against Cal Poly, in a Feb. 20 nonleague game at the Stan Sheriff Center, are the 'Bows likely to be favored.

Anybody who has worked with Nash knows him to be a man of dignity and class. His contributions to UH, as a record-setting player, coach and role model, are unsurpassed and so has been his effort at turning around the program he has called home for most of the past 40 years.

But his is, as the language in the contract extension reminded, a production business and this is supposed to be the "payoff" season for his administration. One in which a team of mostly his players was to demonstrate significant progress from 11-19 and 13-17 campaigns. Nash, in fact, "guaranteed" 18 wins.

To be sure, Bill Amis' season-ending injury has been a setback as has Hiram Thompson's recent shoulder ailment. But even in the early going the 'Bows were unable to close out games and increasingly it has become anybody's guess which nights the team will play hard and which ones it will be a bystander. Nash's frustrations in those regards, particularly the latter, were evident in his comments after Saturday's loss to Fresno State.

The gamble on transfer Dwain Williams, who had been seen as a 3-point shooting difference maker upon arrival but has become more of a soap opera-like figure with two suspensions, has not paid off, so far.

At this point the man responsible for overseeing UH sports, athletic director Jim Donovan, will say only: "I think we have to wait until all the data is in. We have a few more games before I make a final evaluation of the season. I think what happened with football is a good example. At one point we were 2-6 and then won four (more) games. I think there is a lesson learned in making judgments before a season is complete or almost complete."

You can bet UH is looking for reasons not to have to write an estimated $240,000 buyout check while adding a new coach's salary to the multi-million dollar deficit. But at some point in the coming weeks it is bound to be a question of whether the school can afford to make a change vs. can it afford not to?

Expect what happens these next few games to drive that decision.