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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 18, 2010

Donovan's hire could pay off in long run


By Ferd Lewis

If you've driven Hawai'i Kai in the morning hours these past several weeks, chances are you might have glimpsed a solitary figure, floppy hat pulled down over his ears, purposefully trudging along the roadside.

What distinguishes University of Hawai'i athletic director Jim Donovan from the others along the same route is that, wrapped deep in thought and almost oblivious to the surroundings, he seems more intent on finding answers than just getting in a workout.

Athletes are recalled for the plays they make, coaches are remembered for the games they win and, as Donovan has come to understand in nearly 30 years in and around UH, athletic directors are defined by the coaches they hire.

The selection of a new men's head basketball coach will be Donovan's biggest imprint upon UH to date, one that will likely stand until he hires a football coach or an eventual successor to Rainbow Wahine volleyball coach Dave Shoji.

So you can see why he is putting in up to four miles at a time and even much more thought and prayer into this one.

Donovan was there for the plus (June Jones) and minus (Fred vonAppen) of Hugh Yoshida's reign. He was along for the ride with the best (Bob Wagner, Riley Wallace, Vince Goo, Bob Coolen, Mike Wilton, etc.) coaching picks and the not-so-memorable (Frank Arnold) of Stan Sheriff's tenure.

In two years as AD, Donovan has hired a men's volleyball coach (Charlie Wade) and a women's basketball coach (Dana Takahara-Dias). And while those are important positions to be sure, history suggests neither has quite the potential to boost the athletic department's sagging piggy bank the way a successful men's basketball program can.

In this, the bottom line for the department has become his as well. The Board of Regents said as much last month with the commandment to run the place, "more like a business." Words that resonated in the firing of Bob Nash and hang over the search for a successor.

In interviews through yesterday in Los Angeles and earlier in Honolulu, candidates say they have been apprised of the importance of several core areas of running a program but, pointedly, have been reminded that winning and the sooner the better is essential.

"They want to win and soon," said one candidate, who asked not to be named because he was counseled about speaking to the media.

Though an "advisory" committee has accompanied Donovan in interviews with the candidates and will give him feedback along the way, there is no forgetting that, ultimately, this is Donovan's call.

Least of all by the man himself as he pounds the pavement in search of a winner.