Coach Wagner’s Excellent Retirement

UH coach Bob Wagner gives the fans a shaka one last time Dec. 2, 1995, during the senior walk STAR-ADVERTISER/DENNIS ODA PHOTO

UH coach Bob Wagner gives the fans a shaka one last time Dec. 2, 1995, during the senior walk

Former University of Hawaii head football coach Bob Wagner is a Facebook friend of mine. Recently, I’ve been enjoying his posts and pictures as he’s been visiting various college football stadiums around the country.

“This past month, I’ve been traveling with my wife Gloria and going to football games, where I have friends and former players coaching,” he tells me. “It started with Navy (coached by former UH quarterback Kenny Niumatalolo) hosting Rutgers; then Northwestern at Penn State; Stanford (where former Hawaii assistant Duane Akina is a defensive coach) at Notre Dame; Bowling Green (coached by former UH player and assistant Dino Babers) at Ohio (where Wagner got his master’s degree); and finally a doubleheader of games, Virginia at Duke and Georgia Tech (coached by former UH offensive coordinator Paul Johnson) at North Carolina. It’s great to be there and support them.”

Getting to Mainland games is easier for him since he retired from his position as athletic director at Kamehameha-Hawaii. Wagner, 67, now lives part of the year in his Waikiki condo and the other part in Annapolis, Md.

“We wanted to be closer to our daughter Christy, who works in Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s office,” he explains.

But part of the reason he’s traveling all the time is because Wagner loves to keep going.

“I’ve found that, if you were a Type A personality when you worked, then you’ll be a Type A personality in retirement,” he says.

Besides the football games, this fall he has enjoyed visits to places as varied as the Upper Peninsula in Michigan to Civil War battlefields in Virginia to the Outer Banks of North

Carolina. He was sitting looking out at the ocean at a place on the Outer Banks during our long phone conversation, when he interrupted me to call out, “Hey, is that a whale out there or is that a pod of dolphins?”

We reminisced about his career at UH, where between 1987 and 1995 he won 58 games in nine seasons as head coach, including a conference title in 1992 and appearances in the Aloha Bowl and the Holiday Bowl.

Beating BYU 56-14 (25 years ago, in October 1989) was a highlight.

“I decided I didn’t want to be the UH coach if we couldn’t beat BYU,” he says. “It was a great win in many ways, but especially to get the monkey off our backs. I think it meant a lot to the people of our state because it meant we could beat just about anyone and not just be competitive.”

And, yes, he follows the scores of the current Hawaii football program.

“First of all, I like Norm Chow and I respect him very much, but I will admit I’m disappointed,” he says. “Frankly, and I’ve said this before, I wish we had (individuals on the football staff) who had stronger ties with the University of Hawaii.

We’ve had so many former players and former assistants who are so knowledgeable and so qualified, and who bleed Hawaii green. I wish they were being given a chance.”

This week, Coach Wagner will be forced to slow down a little bit from his recent travels, as he’s undergoing knee-replacement surgery. But don’t expect him to be down for long — there’s always another player or coach to support or a stadium, historic battlefield or picturesque bridge on the horizon.

Bob Wagner is having the time of his life.