Between geography, finances and being the only public institution in a 12-member conference, filling the University of Hawaii Hilo men’s basketball coaching job has historically come with a full-court press of challenges.
And as the Vulcans sit down this week to begin the task of hiring a head coach for a program that has gone nearly a decade without a winning season, there is seemingly an additional hurdle.
Yet, as the announced window for applications closes Thursday, Vulcans athletic director Patrick Guillen professes self assurance.
“I’m very very confident that we can get somebody very good,” Guillen said despite what he terms the “Twilight Zone we’re operating in (with the virus)” and its unknowns.
“Hopefully, I can get somebody with previous head coaching experience who has been very successful, has a proven track record of not just winning but a proven track record of a recruiting network and, for us, more importantly, a track record of academic success,” Guillen said.
All that and somebody with Big Island sensibilities would seem an ambitious shopping list for a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2011, when former Manoa assistant coach Jeff Law went 16-11. Law, who was 209-188 and was twice conference Coach of the Year, left after 2012 for a job at Western New Mexico.
The last man to try his hand at Hilo, GE Coleman, went 69-112 over seven years and was fired earlier this month after consecutive 12-14 seasons and missing the PacWest playoffs.
Coleman, formerly an associate head coach at Central Washington, was hired at age 31 with no previous head coaching experience after at least two others had turned down the position.
So, Guillen would seem to have his work cut out for him in finding someone to rebuild a program that had attained national recognition in the 1970s and ’80s under the legendary Jimmy Yagi. With a “day job” running the family’s meat packing business, Yagi went 218-87 over nine seasons.
The task of hiring coaches has been made cumbersome over the years by a bureaucracy that has sometimes seemed to move with the speed of molasses. The hiring of Coleman, for example, took nearly three months, and on his way out the door to a job in Nevada in 2013, Guillen’s predecessor, Dexter Irvin, told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, “The system we have here is a very conservative system. It restricts the ability to function as well as you could.”
But Guillen is touting a May 1 deadline for the naming of a new coach, which might be a Vulcans record.
Curiously, the virus might have also added value to the Hilo job as one of the few current openings available. Among Division II schools in the West only Hilo, Humboldt State, Holy Names and Colorado Christian have openings. This mirrors a national trend where, in part due to the cancellation of the NCAA tournaments and several conference tournaments, there have been fewer firings and a lot less movement by head coaches and their assistants.
There are no jobs currently open among Power 5 schools and just 17 in Division I overall. Last year there were 60 among 351 schools. Over the past decade there have been an average of 52 D-I openings per year.
“In a four-and-a-half-hour-period after announcing (the opening) we received 36 different emails,” Guillen said. “I would be surprised if we don’t get 150 applications.”
In a period of uncertainty, the Vulcans look for a breakthrough.