University of Hawaii football coach Nick Rolovich and a staff member were wrong to push a Honolulu Star-Advertiser photographer in the chaotic moments near the end of the San Diego State game last month, a UH spokesman said Wednesday.
The initial shove by Rolovich caused the photographer to stumble and while he was off balance, the push by the second coach caused him to tumble to the turf, according to video shot during the game. The photographer, Jamm Aquino, suffered a bloody nose, cut lip, sore shoulder and concussion.
“They absolutely admit they were wrong,” UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said of the two coaches in an interview with the Star-Advertiser.
>> VIDEO: Star-Advertiser photographer shoved at UH game
Meisenzahl described the conduct of Rolovich and the other coach he refused to identify as unacceptable and not excusable and said the university is looking into the matter.
“There are procedures in place, and they’re going to be followed,” he said. “And part of those outcomes definitely could include some sort of disciplinary action.”
Meisenzahl’s comments came just hours after Rolovich was named coach of the year by the Mountain West Conference.
The two UH coaches were trying to clear the football field moments after dozens of players, staff and others, including journalists, swarmed the field after San Diego missed a game-tying field goal with two seconds left.
Meisenzahl said it was understandable that the photographers and others were on the field.
“Everybody was just doing their job,” he said. “They thought the game was over, and this was a momentous victory, a huge victory for the University of Hawaii. So it’s completely understandable.”
The win clinched UH’s appearance in Saturday’s Mountain West championship game against Boise State.
Video posted online last week showed what happened in the commotion following the missed field goal.
More than 50 people, including at least 30 UH players and 20 non-players, swarmed the field on the UH side. Aquino, a few steps ahead of Rolovich, was taking photos as the coach walked toward the middle of the field.
Meisenzahl said the coaches suddenly realized a penalty flag had been thrown and a game they thought UH had just won was now in question. So they immediately started telling everyone to get back on the sidelines, according to Meisenzahl.
During the on-field commotion, Rolovich spotted Aquino, motioned toward the sidelines and shoved him with two hands, causing him to stumble, according to video posted on streamable.com.
As Aquino was off balance, the second UH coach shoved him with both hands forcefully enough that Aquino tumbled onto the turf. In addition to his injuries, a camera lens was damaged.
Moments after pushing Aquino, Rolovich used both hands to shove an Associated Press freelance photographer in the back — even though the photographer already was making his way to the sidelines. The photographer stumbled from the push but didn’t fall.
Once the game ended, Aquino went onto the field again, this time to take photos of Rolovich and San Diego State head coach Rocky Long shaking hands. When Rolovich approached, he started swearing at the photographer, according to Aquino.
Meisenzahl said emotions were riding high during such an important game, particularly in those waning moments when there was a fear UH could be penalized for people not authorized to be on the field.
“A lot of good people got stuck in a tense situation, and something that shouldn’t have happened happened, and we want to make it right,” Meisenzahl said.
The night of the game, Rolovich texted Aquino. “Jamm, Nick Rolovich here. Wanted to say sorry for what happened tonight. Hope you are ok. I’ll try to call in the morning. I know you were just trying to do your job.”
Meisenzahl said there was no intention on the part of the two UH coaches to harm anyone and, once Aquino was on the ground, the second coach is seen on the video going to help him up.
Rolovich offered to come to the Star-Advertiser to apologize to Aquino and the rest of the staff but that offer understandably was not accepted, Meisenzahl added.
Meisenzahl praised the job Aquino has done shooting photographs of UH sports.
“He’s a great ambassador for the paper,” Meisenzahl said. “He’s just a really nice guy, and it really does break my heart to see him go through this.”
David Matlin, UH’s athletic director, issued a statement saying Aquino’s work, dedication and talent are appreciated. “It is our goal to meet with Jamm, apologize and start working to repair this valued relationship.”
Aquino, a UH graduate, in a statement said he has had a hard time mentally getting past this incident, given his great relationship with the football program over the past 15 years.
“I never intended nor wanted any of this scrutiny between both factions, but I am also adamant that violence and aggression should never be resorted to, no matter how heated the moment,” Aquino wrote. “I am glad the UH is taking responsibility for the actions of its coaching staff, but I do need time to heal, especially because I’ve spent so much of my career pouring my heart and soul into telling the story of this program.”
Asked if the Mountain West would be investigating what happened, a spokesman said it was an institutional matter and the conference would defer to UH.