Dick Tomey, trail-blazing football coach at the University of Hawaii, dies at 80
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Dick Tomey, trail-blazing football coach at the University of Hawaii, dies at 80

  • BRUCE ASATO / 2011

    Hawaii Assistant Coach Dick Tomey instructs the defense during University of Hawaii football practice.

  • HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER

    Dick Tomey coached at Hawaii from 1977 to 1986.

Football coach Dick Tomey, one of the University of Hawaii’s most beloved athletic figures, died Friday night at the age of 80, according to his family in Tucson, Ariz.

Tomey was diagnosed with lung cancer in December. He died 9:30 p.m. Friday surrounded by his family in Arizona.

“As a family, we rarely talk about how many games Dick Tomey won — we talk about how many hearts he won… including all of ours,” Tomey’s family said in a statement.

Tomey went 63-46-3 in 10 seasons at UH (1977-‘86) during which he resuscitated a languishing football program and led the Rainbow Warriors into the Western Athletic Conference while playing before large crowds at Aloha Stadium.

Under Tomey’s guidance, the ‘Bows drew their first sellout crowd at the 50,000-seat stadium in 1978 losing to eventual national champion USC, 21-5, after trailing, 7-3, into the fourth quarter. Gritty defense and solid special teams play were hallmarks of his tenure at UH.

A native of Indiana, Tomey came to UH from UCLA where he had been an assistant coach to take over an independent Rainbow team that had gone 3-8 and was in turmoil with large numbers of players departing.

He went 5-6 in his inaugural season and then reeled off five consecutive winning seasons including a 9-2 finish in 1981 during which UH climbed as high as No. 19 in the Associated Press poll.

Tomey left after the 1986 season as UH’s all-time winningest coach (later surpassed by June Jones) to take over Arizona, where he coached for 14 years. Tomey also became the Wildcats’ winningest coach (95-64-4).

He later spent five seasons at San Jose State going 25-35 and served as an assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers (2003) and University of Texas (2004). His final coaching job was a one-year stint as UH’s special teams coach in 2011.

The Tomey family said a memorial service is envisioned for July in Hawaii, though no date as yet been set.

In lieu of flowers, the family said the Dick Tomey Legacy Fund has been established through the nonprofit organization Positive Coaching Alliance. According to the organization, “100% of these funds will go directly to providing scholarships and programming for underserved youth in the markets where Dick spent the majority of his years in the community as the head football coach.”

If you are interested in donating to the Dick Tomey Legacy Fund, visit positivecoach.org/TomeyFund to designate the Hawaii, Arizona, or Bay Area chapter as the beneficiary.

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Below is the full statement from Tomey’s family:

“It is with great sadness that we share the news of Dick Tomey’s death on May 10, 2019 at 9:30 p.m. He died surrounded by his family, resting peacefully, after battling lung cancer for months. We are all heartbroken to lose him, but are forever grateful to have shared his life.

To us, Dick Tomey was one of a kind. Known for his room-for-everyone big-heartedness, generous spiritedness (to a fault), instinctive kindness, love and respect for people of all walks, and the ease with which he forgave himself and others and moved on with life without resentments—taught all of us so much. Dick Tomey was never petty, never small minded. He was a man who discovered his mission in life, embraced it, enjoyed it, and accomplished amazing things. When speaking of football, he often said, ‘Football is not complicated. People are.’ He was always, first and foremost, a people person.

On the football field he was a tough as nails coach, who loved fierce competition and the thrill of team-building. He loved his players, every single one of them—always. He was hard on them. He constantly raised the bar. He could do that because he knew how to find the goodness and the talent in people. If he didn’t find it immediately, he kept looking until he did, and once he found goodness/talent he never lost sight of it. He expressed his admiration and raised his expectations—and watched both things multiply. Just that gift alone changed lives, including some of ours. When it came to football, Dick Tomey had an eye for undiscovered ability, an eye for raw potential, an eye for leadership — and a deep regard for guys who walked on, who sacrificed to play the game simply because they loved it. He was never afraid to be the underdog coach, with the underdog team… in fact, he was partial to taking his underdog team(s) in to play the moneyed power schools… and his teams won their share of those games.

Off the field Dick was a beautiful human being. His was a loving spirit. He was a natural leader, a natural teacher. His gift of oratory was legendary. Nearly everyone who knew him can quote Dick Tomey on some subject. Words were his most powerful tool (even his profanity was eloquent). When he spoke he made listeners out of non-listeners, believers out of non-believers. He lifted, he challenged, he inspired. He could change the way a person thought about life, about the world around him, and the person would be better for the change. His own family is proof of that.

Dick Tomey never aspired to fame or fortune. As a young man he dreamed of coaching junior high football. His long career included its share of hard knocks and frustrations, but he insisted, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” It was his selflessness and dedication to the common good that always propelled him forward.

As a family we rarely talk about how many games Dick Tomey won—we talk about how many hearts he won… including all of ours.”

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