Bottom line dooms Nash Contenders lining up to replace UHs Nash
Winning 'more important than ever before'
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
One of the most gloried and storied figures in Hawai'i basketball history exited sorrowfully yesterday, when it was announced that Bob Nash would not be retained as head coach of the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team.
Nash is considered one of the greatest players and most loyal employees ever produced in the Hawai'i basketball program, but his tragic downfall proved to be as a head coach.
Nash led the Rainbow Warriors to a 34-56 record during his three seasons as head coach, including 10-20 this season. Hawai'i finished in last place in the Western Athletic Conference for the first time since 1988.
The 'Bows also did not qualify for this week's WAC Tournament at Reno, Nev., prompting Hawai'i athletic director Jim Donovan to make the announcement of Nash's firing yesterday.
"The reality is, it's a business decision and we're going to move forward," Donovan said.
Nash and the current Hawai'i players declined to comment yesterday.
Nash had one year remaining on his current contract, which pays him an estimated $240,000 per season.
The university will have to pay Nash for the final year of the contract, but Donovan said the athletic department has already received commitments for around $100,000 from anonymous donors to help fund the buyout.
The UH athletic department has already accumulated a net deficit of $10.1 million over the past seven years.
"I will work hard to mitigate any cost to the university of the buyout, and that's my commitment," Donovan said.
Donovan said Nash was offered a different job in the athletic department, but Nash declined.
"I offered Bob an opportunity to work with the university for a couple years and help me fundraise for a project with the Stan Sheriff Center expansion and refurbishment, but Bob was very honest ... he said it wasn't his deal," Donovan said.
With that, Nash's tenure as a fixture with the Hawai'i basketball program came to an end.
Nash, a 6-foot-8 forward during his playing days, was one of the legendary "Fabulous Five" players during the 1970-71 and '71-72 seasons at UH.
He led UH to its first two postseason tournaments and was the school's first NBA first-round draft pick (1972).
He still holds many of the program's rebounding records.
After a stint in professional basketball, he returned to UH as a graduate assistant in 1981, and has been a member of the staff ever since. He served as an assistant/associate coach for three different UH head coaches Larry Little, Frank Arnold and Riley Wallace.
His wife, Domelynne, is a former UH cheerleader; their son, Bobby, played for the 'Bows from 2003-08.
"Bob Nash is a tremendous man and I have the utmost respect for him, what he's done for this university as a player, as an assistant coach, and where his heart is for this program," Donovan said.
Every senior player during Nash's tenure has either graduated from UH or is on track to graduate this year.
However, Donovan said the key factor in the decision was the team's performance on the court.
"That's the only category that hasn't met our standards," Donovan said.
He said each coach at UH is asked to adhere to six guidelines: solid academic progress from the players; compliance with NCAA, state and UH rules; positive interaction with the community; recruiting of student-athletes of good character; be a part of "the UH team"; and successful athletic performance of the team.
"If I could make a decision just based on emotions, we wouldn't be here today," Donovan said. "But from a business standpoint, I told Bob that just getting into the WAC (Tournament) in eighth place wasn't enough."
The 'Bows didn't even get that far, losing 11 of their last 12 games to drop into last place in the conference.
As a result, attendance at the Stan Sheriff Center declined during the Nash era as head coach.
During the 2006-07 season, the last season of Riley Wallace as head coach, the average number of tickets distributed for home games was 6,435. This season, the average dropped to 5,667 the lowest figure in the 16-year history of the Sheriff Center.
"Men's basketball ticket sales alone can represent 4 or 5 percent of our total revenue," Donovan said. "There's other revenue that comes in from participation in the NCAA Tournament, WAC, ESPN contract, our (K5) television contract. It's a substantial amount. The swing between winning and losing can be anywhere from a quarter-million to half a million dollars a year, so it is substantial considering the budget deficit that we're running."
Donovan said he met with Nash several times during the last two weeks of the season to discuss the future of the program. They met for the last time on Sunday night, when Donovan asked Nash if there was a plan in place to turn the program around next season.
"The only thing I asked him was, is there some change we could make that people out there sponsors, season-ticket holders, individual fans, the state of Hawai'i could say wow, that's a change that maybe we'll have a different result next year," Donovan said. "And he couldn't come up with anything that I felt met that criteria."
Donovan said he informed Nash of his decision early yesterday morning. By 10 a.m., the job opening for a men's basketball coach was posted online.
Donovan said he hopes to name a replacement "within a few weeks."
"We will move as quickly as possible, knowing the letter of intent day (to sign new recruits) is April 14," he said.
When Nash was hired in 2007, it came after the national letter of intent day, and he and his assistant coaches were left to scramble to sign six recruits before the start of his first season.
The 'Bows have been playing catch-up ever since, and a seemingly endless string of bad breaks never helped the cause.
This season seemed especially cursed.
At the start, the 'Bows had 11 scholarship players available. Before the first game was even played, team captain Bill Amis the leading rebounder from last season was lost for the season due to a foot injury.
Every other scholarship player on the roster missed practice or game time due to an injury, illness or suspension. During the season-ending loss at Idaho on Saturday, the 'Bows had just seven scholarship players available.
Still, Donovan could not let it slide. He noted that the team played 21 home games, and he did not expect them to go 0-9 on the road.
"When we lost Bill Amis, I thought that would certainly affect us by a few wins, so I thought maybe we would go from 18 to 15 or 16," Donovan said. "And it just didn't pan out.
"I could not foresee a 10-win season with the schedule that we went into this year, and that's why we're making a change."
David Hallums, a starting UH point guard from 1987-89, said several former 'Bows felt a sense of both disappointment and relief after yesterday's announcement.
"It's a sad day because coach Nash is a great man who deserved better," Hallums said. "But in a selfish way, I'm relieved because I got sick and tired of hearing all the stuff people were saying about him every day."
Hallums, a Pearl City High athlete, said Nash helped him receive a scholarship to play basketball at UH. Back then, Nash was an associate coach under Wallace.
"Back in my day, coach Nash was the man you went to if you had a problem with anything," Hallums said. "He had so much wisdom, so much class, so much dignity. I know I'm not the only one who feels that way because he helped a lot of us."
Hallums said he also remembers Nash being a fierce competitor, which makes the recent results of the Hawai'i teams all the more perplexing.
"All the so-called superstars he brought in wouldn't have lasted two days with us," Hallums said. "I honestly couldn't believe some of the stuff he let them get away with guys saying their knee was sore, their ankle was sore, the flu ... come on, man.
"Unfortunately, that goes to the top and he had to be responsible for it. I don't know what happened along the way, maybe (Nash) mellowed too much. I just wish people could have seen that old coach Nash as the head coach because I think it might have been different."
'A CLASS GUY'
Despite the mounting losses and dwindling attendance, membership in the men's basketball booster club increased this year.
Booster club president Tom Ishii said Nash called him personally yesterday morning to tell him the news.
"Bob was a class guy all the way and everybody who knew him has the greatest respect for him," Ishii said. "I have two sons, and if my sons were basketball players, I would want them to be coached by someone of his caliber."
Ishii said the booster club is still planning to honor Nash at the team's awards banquet on April 22.
Nash's coaching staff associate coach Jackson Wheeler, and assistant coaches Larry Farmer and Eran Ganot will also be considered terminated, but they can apply for assistant coaching positions when a new head coach is in place, according to Donovan. All three of those coaches have been with Nash since the start of his head coaching tenure.
Wheeler and Ganot were in the process of recruiting new players to join the team next season.
Jordan Coleman, a high-scoring guard at Calabasas High in California, is the only recruit who has officially signed to play with the 'Bows for next season.
He said he will take a "wait-and-see" approach to the situation. Because of the UH coaching change, Coleman could seek a release from his letter of intent.
"I still want to play for Hawai'i if coach Eran (Ganot) is still there," Coleman said.
Ganot was the primary recruiter of Coleman.
Eleven current Hawai'i players are eligible to return next season.