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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 21, 2010

A chance to restore a program and name

By Ferd Lewis

The first time Gib Arnold mentioned of someday going after the University of Hawai'i men's basketball coaching job, his friends were incredulous.

"They'll string you up," one pointedly told him years ago.

Yesterday, when he was named the new UH coach, the only thing Arnold had around his neck were lei.

Certainly it was, in part, due to the passage of time and, you'd like to think, the ability to forgive and forget the turbulent, 11-45, two-year tenure (1985-87) of his father, Frank, that helped get Arnold the job Friday.

It was also testimony to how persuasive Arnold was in interviews and how willing UH is to embrace someone who eloquently promises a better day and offers a new plan for its downtrodden program.

Advisory committee member Peter Ho, whose family ties with UH basketball go back more than 30 years, said the Arnold family tree was not a point of emphasis. "I have a 3-year-old son and I wouldn't want him judged by me," Ho said.

After the longest string of losing seasons in 22 years dating back to you-know-whose time frankly, the name should matter little, just the results.

Whoever athletic director Jim Donovan publicly presented yesterday is going to be feted if they can win. Whoever he brought in is going to be the "wrong" guy if he doesn't win.

If somebody named Bernie Madoff can take the 'Bows' fortunes to the NCAA tournament, he'll be the toast of Mānoa. Just as we already know even a sainted Fabulous Five member can be turned out for not winning or drawing enough.

For the 41-year-old Arnold, there is the excitement of a first-time head coaching job on the major college level. His effervescence spoke to the thrill of returning to a home and friends he embraced as a teenager.

And, never hovering very far away from the equation, there is also the opportunity to burnish the family name.

"He's gonna do his work and he's gonna, I hope, fully annihilate my reputation there to the point that it is no longer remembered," 76-year-old Frank Arnold said from his home in Boise, Idaho. "He will establish his own reputation and it is going to be a positive one."

Frank Arnold had the misfortune of being the wrong guy in the wrong place when he took over the 'Bows in 1985, a situation neither he nor the school fully grasped until it was too late. He came expecting to replicate his experiences of UCLA and Brigham Young here and had neither the temperament for nor the understanding of the challenge that awaited him.

"Within a year and a half I knew I wasn't the right person for the job," Frank Arnold said. "My philosophy was different and my personality and makeup is different (from Gib). It is a good thing for Gib that we're polar opposites. He's an islander at heart and I'm just as happy as I can be for him. I think the people will love him."

Friday, when Arnold called his father with the news of his hiring, he said his Dad, "told me how proud he was and started crying. ...

"I love my father. I'm proud of who he is. I'm proud that I'm his son. He's a great man. He's a great father and a great coach ... but the Arnold name here to the basketball people here in Hawai'i was a tough time and a tough era.

"... as his son, I've got the opportunity to change that and to build a program that the people of Hawai'i can be proud of and I'm honored to have that opportunity. I'm grateful for that. That means a lot to me."

Saint Mary's associate head coach Kyle Smith, whose team earned a trip to the Sweet 16 just hours before yesterday's press conference, would have been the timely and popular pick. One of the several former head coaches would have been an easy choice.

Instead, Donovan offered this considerable challenge to the one guy who has as much of an investment in turning it around as he does.