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UH search committee tasked with hiring AD for cash-strapped department

As I read the details of the University of Hawaii’s plans for finding a new athletic director, I couldn’t help but hear my grandmother’s “oy vey” in my head. Based on decision’s to this point, it’s becoming a little clearer where the school’s priorities lie in terms of its sports department — and winning may not be at the top of the list.

About five weeks after current athletic director Ben Jay announced he will be resigning in June, Hawaii announced this week that it has put together an eight-member search committee to find the school’s next AD. These committees aren’t unusual when such a situation arises. It’s not a job opening you simply leave to the human resources department. There are a lot of factors to be considered, especially when UH is hoping to have someone in place for the long haul after some recent turnover.

But when the school decides the committee will be chaired by Warren Haruki, CEO for both Grove Farm Co. and Maui Land and Pineapple Co., it seems to indicate the mentality that will drive its ultimate decision. The financial burden and not wins and losses – though they are certainly related – is the top priority. Haruki, a Kapaa High School graduate, clearly has a keen business mind. You don’t become president and CEO of one successful company and chairman and CEO of another without that attribute.

He will be joined on the committee by John Dean, chairman and CEO of Central Pacific Bank, as well as Allen Uyeda, retired president and CEO of First Insurance Co., among other UH faculty in both athletics and medicine.

First of all, I don’t know these individuals personally. They must all be smart and understand professional success to have reached their current statuses in the community. I was happy to see that the other five committee members will be people who have to work alongside the new AD, like current assistant athletic director Marilyn Moniz-Kahoohanohano and faculty athletics representative David Ericson. This isn’t a group that will pick someone and say “good luck” as it waves and exits stage left. Some are very interested in the chemistry and temperament the eventual choice will bring to the school and office environment.

There are agencies that specialize in assisting universities in these hires. The cost could be a deterrent, but getting the department moving in the right direction will mean more money in the long run than whatever a competitive agency might cost. And if the school was always going to keep this in-house, then the timeline is problematic. They waited quite a while just to put the committee together and now they say they hope to have a hire by mid-year. That will leave important questions lingering, like how they handle Benjy Taylor and the men’s basketball coaching situation.

Finances are a major concern, but a lot of those problems can be solved or softened by doing one thing – winning. Success breeds success. I sometimes get questions from college kids in journalism programs about how they should approach their job search after graduation. Because newsrooms are getting smaller in the shrinking world of print journalism, I tell them to write what they’re passionate about and try to publish it on their own. Get your words out there however you can because I truly believe that if something is good, people will find it.

If Hawaii puts out a good product, mainly with its football program, the fans will be drawn back to it. The financial struggles will begin to dissipate. The next athletic director will have to understand how to manage a sports department’s finances, but that shouldn’t be his or her greatest strength. That’s hoping for a quick fix to a current problem, not a way to build long-term stability.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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