In his last official appearance at the University of Hawaii before leaving to become head football coach at Arizona, a tearful, emotion-choked Dick Tomey vowed "… someday, when it is all over, we’ll come back."
At the time — 1987 — we thought he meant eventually returning to live here in retirement.
But today, 24 years later, Tomey’s return is to be announced as an assistant coach at UH.
At the grandfatherly age of 72, Tomey remains hardly the retiring type and will return to a program that he coached for a decade (1977-86), rebuilding it after a tumultuous turnover and guiding it through the infancy of Western Athletic Conference membership. It is an association he has long compared to "having your first child and watching that child grow."
That paternal pride and considerable investment figures to serve him and the Warriors well in what should be his new assignment, coordinating UH’s special teams after the departure of Chris Tormey.
It was in Tomey’s tenure as head coach that UH special teams gained a highly visible and popular game-breaking reputation in Manoa. He preached "all three phases of the game: offense, defense and special teams" with such a frequency and fervor that even youth league coaches in the 1980s came to parrot it. And the commitment was more than token.
Fans might not have always loved his offenses, but they exulted in the daring special teams play and kick-blocking ferocity of Tomey’s teams. The kind that Niko Noga and Mike Akiu became poster players for in a record-setting stuffing of kicks and punts. Many marks, including Akiu’s six blocks in a season, still stand.
To see Tomey around UH since the end of a head coaching career at Arizona and San Jose State and an NFL stint has been to glimpse someone for whom the passion to coach still flows and who still has much to offer as a motivator and painstaking instructor. As recently as three years ago UH officials contacted Tomey to gauge his interest in returning to Manoa as June Jones’ successor.
These days the charge is special teams, where there is ample room for improvement in several areas, especially kickoff and punt returns, where UH has lagged in recent years.
And, if there is any place a 72-year-old coach should feel at home this fall, it would be at UH, a golden candidate for AARP staff of the year.
When the season rolls around, barring additional changes, the 10-man coaching staff could average more than 50 years old, even with two of the youngest coordinators, Nick Rolovich, who will be 32, and Dave Aranda, who will be 34, in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision.
Five men — head coach Greg McMackin, who turns 66, and assistants Mouse Davis (78), Tomey (73), Cal Lee (66) and Gordy Shaw (55) — sometime this year will be able to claim senior discounts. And an AARP card will soon be in the mail for associate head coach Rich Miano, who reaches 49 by the season opener.
Not to mention the marketing possibilities that could come UH’s way with Ensure and senior bus passes.
When Tomey left for Arizona, he termed the time spent at UH as "the greatest experience of my life …"
Nearly a quarter-century later he’s back with an opportunity to add to it.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.