The Tough Part About Coaching

Kobe Bryant in action last Tuesday against Phoenix. AP photo

Kobe Bryant in action last Tuesday against Phoenix. AP photo

The announcement last week that two University of Hawaii assistant football coaches were being let go following the 1-11 season was not a complete surprise. There had been widespread speculation that defensive coordinator Thom Kaumeyer was in jeopardy after the UH defense struggled in the latter part of the season. Linebackers coach Tony Tuioti was the lone holdover from the Mc-Mackin era and didn’t have as much history with head coach Norm Chow as most other assistants.

Those changes are the kind being made all over the country where expectations were unmet. They are the worst part of the business of athletics because they exact a human cost. Everyone who goes into the coaching profession knows the deal, but it doesn’t make it any easier when the pink slip arrives.

For head coaches at big schools, the damage is mostly pride. Many have become wealthy and receive large buyouts as they depart. Assistants suffer in more practical terms. Most are on one-year contracts, and that was true of both UH coaches. Few have amassed serious savings, and the bills don’t stop when the job does. Tuioti has a wife and seven children. While nobody outside the coaches’ offices truly can understand the dynamics of a staff, those of us who work around the program get to know people and see them as more than just coaches.

Kaumeyer is an extremely honest and straight-for-ward man who always was willing to talk in a way that you could understand.

He was open and accessible, and displayed a terrific sense of humor. Tuioti was a rugged player for UH in the late 1990s and developed a more verbal and supportive style as a coach. You can’t find a bad word about either of these men from anyone who has ever worked with them. They are both good coaches and good people. The business of sport is sometimes very difficult, and this is one of those times. As we head into this holiday season, we can only wish them well as they continue their respective journeys.

* The Kobe Bryant watch has shifted from when will he come back to what will he be as a 36-year-old trying to recover from a torn Achilles. The early games of his return were inconclusive. There were obvious signs of rust and he was clearly not in sync, but there were flashes of the old Kobe. Not even the doctors seem able to predict whether Bryant will regain his explosiveness, although a conversation with anyone who works with Bryant seems to end with: “If anybody can come back from this, it’s Kobe.”

But there is still the fact that the $48.5 million the Lakers will pay Bryant for the next two years ensures the Lakers will be unable to sign two players to max deals; the other side of that is there may not be two max-contract types willing to play for the Lakers anyway. The betting here is that even if Bryant loses some of his explosiveness, he’ll get it figured out and find his way back to being an alpha dog in the NBA.