After 13 seasons away from high school football, Ron Lee feels like the luckiest coach in the world.
Kalani football coach Greg Taguchi confirmed yesterday that Lee, the former offensive coordinator at Hawaii, is on staff with the Falcons. After years of visiting Lee and his brother, Cal, to learn the nuances of the game, Taguchi is in a surreal setting, watching Ron Lee bring decades of experience to Kalani’s program.
Taguchi noted that there’s no official title for Lee, who is a volunteer coach, technically. Lee doesn’t care at all about titles and formality.
"I’m getting a lot of the fun. I’m really the lucky guy," he said. "I’d be in agony if I wasn’t coaching."
The Falcons have struggled, to say the least, for years. But the wheels are in place and they’ve been much more competitive in recent years. When Taguchi returned in 2008 for his second stint as head coach, the junior-varsity program drew more than 40 players—an astounding number for the mid-sized school. The same happened last season, and this summer, 44 are on the JV roster.
Another key reason for Kalani’s improvement is the knowledge that the Lee brothers shared with Taguchi in his visits to UH’s football offices and practice field.
Now that the run-and-shoot master is on the field at Kalani morning and afternoon for two-a-days, what really strikes a chord with Taguchi is Ron Lee’s teaching prowess.
"It’s about inquiry, asking the receivers and quarterbacks and slotbacks what they’re thinking about. As a teacher, I notice it. That’s the trend in teaching now. You ask. You’re patient," Taguchi said.
For Lee, it’s a natural fit. After leaving UH in the offseason, he found himself still passionate about teaching the run-and-shoot offense.
"I didn’t retire. I still work at the Outrigger (Hotel). I found that I missed coaching," said Lee, 66.
His relationship with Taguchi opened a door to a place he knew well a generation ago. Lee began his coaching career at Kalani in 1967, and he went on to lead Kaiser to a Prep Bowl championship in 1979. That team toppled Kamehameha 27-7, becoming the first run-and-shoot team to win the title.
He joined Cal at Saint Louis during the Crusaders’ dynasty in the ’80s and ’90s before making the move to Manoa.
In Taguchi, Lee sees a kindred spirit.
"He’s been doing it for awhile. He knows what he’s doing," said Lee, who brought the aerial juggernaut of an offense to the islands after learning it from the guru, Mouse Davis. "Greg takes the time to study. For seven, eight years he’s been coming to UH. He works hard. He starts at 6:30, 7 in the morning and stays until 8 or 9 at night. That’s one of the reasons I’m here. He puts the time in."
Lee has known thick and thin times at UH, but going back to Kalani might be a big surprise to fans who don’t know him well.
"We’ve been through it before. When I started with Cal at Saint Louis, we had low numbers. At Kaiser, we had 35 guys," he said.
Lee once coached headline-makers such as Colt Brennan, Ashley Lelie, Nick Rolovich and Davone Bess. Now he’s working with the likes of Michael Sayes, Nathaniel Lamar, Jun Cho and quarterback Wilkins Kato.
"There are five, six kids who are pretty decent," Lee said of his Falcon receivers. "When you get on the field, it doesn’t matter if it’s college or high school. The kids get better every day. The coaching is the same. Whether they win or lose doesn’t matter as long as they get better. That’s what makes it fun."
Lee hasn’t found any difference between scholarship football players and high school kids when it comes to focus and learning.
"I think they’re very excited. They understand the offense and they’ll keep getting better, just like (Greg) Salas and Davone (Bess). From July to December, the understanding of concepts of coverage will get better."