Coaches’ Petition Is Inappropriate

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

Last week, 18 UH head coaches and 28 assistants, including every member of the football coaching staff, sent a letter to chancellor Tom Apple, president M.R.C. Greenwood and board of regents chairman Eric Martinson asking that vice president for student affairs and university/community relations Rockne Freitas be considered for immediate appointment as athletics director.

Three of those who signed the petition – head football coach Norm Chow, Wahine volleyball coach Dave Shoji and Wahine basketball coach Laura Beeman – are on the selection committee to find a new AD. By the very nature of their signatures on the letter, the selection process has been compromised and, for that reason, they must be removed. To not do so will further show the incompetence of university leadership.

According to Aug. 31 Star-Advertiser article, Chow, who was appointed vice chairman of the selection committee, is the leader behind the movement to circumvent the hiring process that is not only needed to properly vet candidates, but is typically required by state hiring laws.

Columnist Fred Lewis reported that Chow has been Freitas’ biggest booster and that “Chow is described as ‘very concerned’ about several facets of the planned search, including the length of time to find a permanent replacement for (Jim) Donovan.” That’s all very well, but no employee should have such power in the hiring of their immediate supervisor.

But give Chow credit, at least he appears to have a motive other than simply running with the pack, as did one unnamed coach who admitted to signing the letter for no better reason that not wanting to be left out.

From the beginning, Freitas, who has been the interim AD since Donovan was placed on paid leave July 11 (and later cleared of any wrongdoing in the investigation into the failed Stevie Wonder benefit concert), has said he has no interest in the job. That makes sense because, if anyone knows how unattractive the powerless position of being athletic director at UH is, it’s the guy who has spent more than two decades within the archaic system.

If Freitas is convinced to put his name into the ring, he’ll get the job. He’s a highly respected educator, a powerful player in university politics, has plenty of influential friends and already comes with the blessing of nearly the entire coaching roster. If not, I feel sorry for the next guy because whoever it is had better know that he will be the boss in name only, and that real power rests with those occupying higher offices and those he is supposed to lead.

What will happen next is anyone’s guess. Things will likely remain quiet until the state Senate’s Special Committee on Account-ability convenes its review and fact-finding look into the bungled concert, and the leadership and budgetary questions it brought to light. That should begin late this month.

State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, the committee chairwoman, says the Wonder concert and its fallout were the tipping point for the public’s dis satisfaction with the university, and that it’s the No. 1 topic among her constituents. As any politician will tell you, angry residents make for dissatisfied voters, and that doesn’t bode well come election time.

“They just want answers. They want to know why the decisions were made and why was a new position created that doesn’t have a name, how much does it cost, how is it affecting student tuition,” she says.

The Kalihi Valley-Halawa legislator also says the hearing will look beyond the concert fiasco and focus on the overall leadership of the university, which she says appears to be lacking.

“At this point in time, I’d say yes. Otherwise I don’t think we’d be in this position nor would the Senate feel the need to have to call for these informational briefings and hearings,” she said.

The appropriateness of coaches on the search committee also is a topic likely to be broached.

“I do question whether coaches who are put on the selection committee should be part of that (the letter supporting Freitas). I guess the whole question is whether or not coaches should be put on the committee to begin with, because do you put employees on a committee to pick their own boss?”

If you’re hoping for action from the governor’s office, don’t hold your breath. Sitting sideline for Wahine volleyball’s impressive four-set victory over No. 6 Stanford was former campus rabble rouser Neil Abercrombie and the embattled Apple. The cozy seating assignment gave a clear message: The state’s highest elected office is firmly behind UH leadership. That is unless enough political pressure forces him off his perch. Although the Senate has confirmation powers to approve board of regent members, Hawaii Revised Statues allows for only the governor to remove members.