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By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
Don't worry about Bob Nash.
He is, after all, the best rebounder to ever play for the University of Hawai'i men's basketball program.
One day after being terminated as the head coach of the Rainbow Warriors, Nash vowed to rebound in his life — maybe even as a basketball coach.
In an emotional interview with The Advertiser yesterday at his home, Nash said he is still "trying to decompress" after Monday's announcement by Hawai'i athletic director Jim Donovan that Nash would not be retained as head coach.
"Not going to work at the University of Hawai'i is a hard thing for me," said Nash, who wiped away tears several times during the interview. "It's a place that I love, and everybody in my immediate family has been educated by the University of Hawai'i. So for me not to have that opportunity to go there every day and help others the way the university has helped me and my family is something I have to deal with."
Counting his days as one of the star players on the legendary "Fabulous Five" UH teams of 1970-72, Nash's affiliation with Hawai'i basketball spanned 31 years.
The last three came as head coach, and he guided the 'Bows to a 34-56 record during his tenure.
At Monday's press conference announcing the coaching move, Donovan described it as "a business decision," saying that Nash met five of the six guidelines to which all UH coaches must adhere.
Nash, whose seniors are on pace for a 100 percent graduation rate during his tenure, was told that the only guideline he failed was the team's win-loss record.
"If you have six goals for your coaches and you miss one of them, that must have been the most important one," Nash said. "For me, if you build a program, you start with the most important problem first. You solve the academic issues. You do that, then you can put other things in place to be successful and bring in players."
Because the program faced penalties for academic deficiencies prior to his tenure, Nash was told by then-athletic director Herman Frazier to recruit only players who were academic qualifiers out of high school.
In essence, that meant the 'Bows had to stay away from the junior college pool of recruits that had nourished the program under previous head coach Riley Wallace.
"I couldn't go out and find the best players in junior college like we did before," Nash said. "We had to recruit guys who had a certain academic background, and those are hard to find in junior college. All that was not made aware to the public."
The benefit of the plan was the perfect graduation rate. The downfall was the loss of potentially better players.
If the same plan had been in place years earlier, some players who never would have been 'Bows include Anthony Carter, Trevor Ruffin, Marquette Alexander, Tony Maroney, Julian Sensley, Matt Lojeski and Ahmet Gueye.
If allowed to fulfill the final year of his contract next season, Nash said he would have returned to recruiting all junior college players.
"My plan was to put the academics in place, which we did," Nash said. "Now we can go out and get guys who can help us right away. We just weren't allowed to finish what we envisioned."
And in retrospect, Nash said he probably wouldn't have recruited some of the players he did.
"One thing I would change is that first year, not sign so many guys just to fill the roster," he said. "If I took my lumps that year, maybe we would have been able to bring in different players the following years."
NO ILL WILL
Nash did not attend Monday's press conference, and did not watch it on the Internet or listen to the radio.
However, Donovan met with Nash several times in the final weeks of the season, including late Sunday night. Donovan informed Nash of the decision early Monday morning.
"I'm never going to harbor any ill will for this decision," Nash said. "It was made in the best interest of the university. It negatively impacts me, obviously, because I cannot finish what I started. But if it's in the best interest of the university, then I have to live with it."
Nash also noted that his tenure coincided with the economic downturn.
"Obviously, if you're not winning, that keeps more people away," he said. "You can talk about declining attendance, declining season tickets ... reality is everything is declining in this economy."
Nash said he tried to compensate for the declining ticket revenue by making his own budget cuts, including travel (the team went on just one non-conference road trip this season).
STILL WANTS TO COACH
Nash has fulfilled virtually every coaching duty during his stint at Hawai'i, which started in 1981, when he was a graduate assistant.
"I think coaching will always be in my blood," said Nash, 59. "I think I have the knowledge of how this game is played. I certainly would like to share that with another team some place. If I had an opportunity that I thought was a great one, I would go and do it. Whether it's (NCAA) Division II, or junior college, or high school, if it's in Europe, or Asia — as long as it's a good opportunity to continue coaching and is something that excites me, then I would pursue it."
Nash, who is due $240,000 from UH as part of a buyout of his contract, said he is financially stable and does not need an immediate coaching job to pay his bills.
"I'm in a position to sustain myself and my family through my hard work early in life," said Nash, a former first-round selection in the NBA draft. "I don't want to keep coaching because I'm driven by money or ego. I still have a lot of energy and passion for helping young people get better as players and students."
THE NEXT UH COACH
When Riley Wallace announced his resignation as Hawai'i head coach in 2006, he endorsed Nash as his successor.
Nash has no such endorsement.
"I certainly don't want to stir up any controversy by suggesting a candidate," he said. "I think Mr. Donovan has a great mind for what he wants to do, and I think he'll make the right choice."
Nash said he may not even attend Hawai'i games next season, so as not to take away from the new coach.
"I will always support the University of Hawai'i," he said. "Whether I go to the games or not, that's something I would slowly have to work my way back into. I can't be a distraction for someone else who is trying to build the program."
He emphasized, however, that he would be willing to help the new coach make the transition, if asked.
"I'm not going to force my opinion on anyone," Nash said. "But I would share any information and assistance I could to help the program."
His only words of advice to the prospective new coach: "Of the six things that matter, make sure that the wins are taken care of, because in the end, that seems to be the carrot that solves problems."
THE HAWAI'I HURDLES
Wallace — and the UH coaches before him — always said that Hawai'i's isolation made it difficult to build a consistently successful basketball program.
Nash is no different.
"It's a difficult job for a number of reasons," he said. "There's a disconnect between how you recruit on the Mainland and how you recruit here. On the Mainland, you can drive out to see a recruit and be back home in a couple of hours. You can even make a 5-hour plane ride and be back the same day. Here in Hawai'i, that's impossible.
"And there are only limited funds you can use on recruiting, so you can only fly back and forth so many times when you're in Hawai'i."
That same Pacific Ocean separating Hawai'i and its opponents make for difficult road trips. The 'Bows went 4-27 on the road during Nash's tenure, including 0-9 this season.
LOSING AN ICON
Nash was a respected figure in the entire Hawai'i athletic department.
During his years of employment, he was often asked to serve as emcee, or to give the invocation, at various athletic department functions.
Derek Inouchi, the UH sports media relations director, asked Nash to be the emcee at the wedding reception for him and wife Michele in 2006.
"There was no other person we wanted," Inouchi said. "He knows us both very well so it made for an entertaining and comical wedding reception, all with his signature style."
With Nash's termination, a UH athletic department tradition may also come to a halt. Every April, Nash would treat all the secretaries in the athletic department to lunch on Administrative Professionals Day.
"He would even have games ready for us to play," said Bobbie Omoto, the UH basketball secretary.
Ultimately, though, his first love was Hawai'i basketball.
"Coach Nash has three children — Erika, Bobby and UH basketball," assistant coach Eran Ganot said. "And to understand what that means, you have to understand what a great family man he is."
For now, Nash just wants to relax. But part of that relaxing includes exercise.
He said he is in good health and will begin training to enter a marathon in June. His plan is to complete the San Diego Marathon with his daughter, Erika.
"I'm not ready right now, but I got plenty of time to catch up," he said.
In effect, he said the only change in his life is unemployment.
"I'm going to continue to try and be a good father and husband," he said. "The rest of my life stays the same. Unfortunately, I have to move on from a place I love dearly. I'll just take a step back from the public eye and kind of fade away to the scenes and just be a normal person."
Nash did not get a chance to make a formal farewell from UH, but said he appreciated the fans who did show up for his team's games.
"I have to thank all the fans who showed up and supported me and the program," he said. "Tom Ishii did a great job with the booster club, Sidney Hamada with our annual golf tournament, Ruth Ono, Carolyn Berry, the Al Saake Foundation ... there's so many who made this a memorable experience for me."
2010 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
|Sept. 2||USC||5:30 p.m.|
|Sept. 11||at Army||TBA|
|Sept. 18||at Colorado||TBA|
|Sept. 25||Charleston Southern||TBA|
|Oct. 2||Louisiana Tech *||TBA|
|Oct. 9||at Fresno State *||TBA|
|Oct. 16||Nevada *||TBA|
|Oct. 23||at Utah State *||TBA|
|Oct. 30||Idaho *||TBA|
|Nov. 6||at Boise State *||TBA|
|Nov. 20||San Jose State *||TBA|
|Nov. 27||at New Mexico State *||TBA|