And the hits just keep on coming!
This past spring I wrote a column (“Big, bad NCAA to investigate UH hoops,” March 21,) about the NCAA looking into some transgressions regarding the UH men’s basketball program. Since so few details were available at the time and the UH athletic department wasn’t responding to any media inquiries, most of my commentary was about the duplicity of the NCAA as an organization, its self-righteous nature and my lack of respect for its constant admonishing of all its underlings.
To be clear, that’s all still true.
But UH, which wanted to get out ahead of the NCAA from the beginning, decided that whatever transpired was enough to fire head coach Gib Arnold just over a week before the season is to begin. More than seven months after the investigation began, all we really know is that Arnold and assistant Brandyn Akana have been removed stemming from some information being added to a document that may have streamlined a recruit’s eligibility.
This changes quite a bit for the ‘Bows as they get ready for the 2014-15 season. It changes their whole team psyche. What was a 20-win team looking to continue trending upward is now a group with an interim coach (Benjy Taylor) and a lack of direction. Every member of this men’s team has factored Coach Arnold into his decision to come play for Hawaii. He may not have been the sole factor or even the most important, but each player thought he knew who would be his coach throughout his UH career.
That knowledge is no longer accurate and that will play on these players’ minds. They may lose some faith in the athletic department. They may lose some faith in the program and the team’s capabilities. A new face running practice and leading pre-game discussions doesn’t resonate in the same manner. There can be a sense that this person, though familiar, doesn’t necessarily deserve their trust or their full commitment. It’s similar to walking into a classroom and seeing a substitute teacher.
So the players will undoubtedly still go out and give their all, but probably just out of a sense of responsibility to one another. It becomes more of an “us against the world” dynamic and it can be effective for the time being. But especially at the college level, that leader, that figurehead is imperative to take a team to its highest of heights.
Because so few details have been revealed, this all just seems like a gross mishandling by UH. The timing and the lack of transparency lend credence to the notion that the entire Hawaii athletic department just isn’t on the same level as the majority of Division I programs. They’ve been virtually silent for months until deciding that late October is the right time to make a change, providing no additional information to go with the announcement. It could very well sabotage the team’s season, which had been eagerly anticipated and could be the last for captain Isaac Fotu, who is currently ineligible to play this season. The all-conference junior forward now certainly has one less reason to stick around for his senior season.
And maybe it’s unfair to place the blame squarely on UH. Maybe there were some real transgressions that occurred and we’ll find out soon enough that firing Arnold and Akana was completely justifiable, no matter how unsuitable the timing appeared. Or maybe the nauseatingly felonious leaders of the NCAA threatened harsher sanctions if changes weren’t made immediately.
But all we know right now is that the ‘Bows will take the court a week from today in an exhibition contest and that Gib Arnold won’t be holding the clipboard. Everything else is subject to interpretation and innuendo. And the blame for that, specifically, does fall squarely on UH.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.