Talk Story: Kelii Morgado

LIHUE — It’s only been a little more than two weeks since Kelii Morgado was hired as Kauai High School’s athletic director. 

The guy knows high school athletics. He was a football coach for nearly two decades for Kauai and Kapaa high schools. He’s won five Kauai Interscholastic Federation football championships — four with the Red Raiders and one with the Warriors. Morgado retired from coaching following the 2013-14 KIF football season. 

Since becoming Kauai High’s AD, his work schedule has been continuous and, at times, overwhelming. But he relishes the role and the challenge. 

“It’s crazy, man,” Morgado said Tuesday. “It’s fall. My email and phones, it’s nonstop. It’s pretty unbelievable. I didn’t realize it’s that hectic.” 

Morgado sat down with The Garden Island and discussed what he’s done since stepping away from coaching, his new position at Kauai High and, of course, football. 

You retired from coaching in 2013. Up until recently, what have you been up to? 

Actually, building a house. We put our house on the market and sold it in order to buy property. Went through the whole process of getting plans, getting a bond, getting a loan, finding contractors and building, which I’m taking a pretty large role in. I’ve been busy doing that. And then, this job. 

(It’s) right here in Lihue, just five minutes away from campus. … This is our dream home. 

Do you miss coaching at all? 

No. Actually, not at all. I think I got it out of my system. I’ve always loved athletics. I’ve always loved football. I think football is a special sport in terms of bonding between players and coaches, players to players, the amount of effort that’s put in and what you get out of it regardless of your record that season. It’s just a special game. It really tests you as an individual — coach and player. 

Coaching itself, if you do it right, it consumes your life as a head coach. When games are on Friday, I would be on film all Saturday and Sunday. My wife would take our boys to the beach and I would be at home watching film and game planning. I wouldn’t have any family time. My baby, the first six months of his life, I saw him for half an hour in the morning. 

Really? Not even a little bit, especially last season being your first away from it? 

I think I only went to two games, maybe three. I miss the boys and I miss being a part of them. And even my coaches. We’ve become very good friends and we’d spend more time with each other than with our spouses. 

I miss the camaraderie, but no. I didn’t (miss coaching). I was happy to be home and to not have a schedule — get to practice, get home and watch film, all of that. 

Is watching football different for you now? I’d imagine while watching games, you’re analyzing at the same time. 

I tend to watch football by myself just trying to figure out why that coach is doing what he’s doing — why he’s making those calls. I tend to see the mistakes by players — the spacing, the technique. 

I’m slowly getting away from that analytical standpoint and I’m able to enjoy the game a little more now. It is nice to be able to watch the biggest college game of that Saturday live, not have to record it and watch it later. That’s cool. 

I’m a big Nick Saban fan. To be able to watch an Alabama game, last year watching an Oregon game because of Marcus Mariota, it’s fun. It’s cool to be able to be home and watch a game. 

I didn’t know you’re a Saban fan. Why? 

I agree with his thought process. I’ve always told my coaches and my players this from the very beginning: The scoreboard is for the fans and the gamblers. It’s not for us. We’re more concerned about how we do things. 

He says it’s about the process, not the end result. My message was the same. If we preach about winning, it’s the wrong focus. It’s a waste of focus and attention. We should preach about how we do our job. If we do all the little things right, the end result will be victories or championships. If we focus on the end result, we’re going to miss everything in between and not get those championships. 

Since you brought him up as well, how do you think Mariota will do in his rookie year in the NFL? 

He’s a chess player. He’s a calm presence and a fierce competitor at the same time. I think, of course, the game is faster. Everybody can move. Even the D-lineman can chase him down. I think Johnny Manziel found that out — everybody is fast in the NFL. 

He’s going to find it more difficult to make big plays. But he’s such a cool, calm thinker in the pocket. I think he’s going to do all right. He’s got the arm. He’s got the legs. He’s got the height to see over that line. He’s got all the intangibles and the skills. I’m excited to see what he can do. I think he’s going to do well. 

How significant is it seeing Mariota, a local boy, excel in college and then reach the pros? 

When I was growing, it was Mark Tuinei and Jesse Sapolu. It was mostly lineman. Hawaii contributed lineman to the NFL. It’s rare to see a receiver from Hawaii. But to see a quarterback, a No. 2 pick and Heisman Trophy winner, all of that is just incredible. 

He’s the franchise, if you will, for Hawaii football. It’s cool. It’s cool to have somebody up there. 

Arnold Morgado, another one. He’s a distant relative. He’s a cousin of my dad. He was a fullback for the Kansas City Chiefs, and this was when I was really young. He was a short-yardage specialist. He would just pound the ball on 4th and 1 on the goal line. 

Again, (Mariota is) a quarterback. Pretty cool. 

When was your first day as Kauai High’s athletic director?

Less than two weeks (ago). I found out the day before the teachers got back, and I officially started two Wednesdays ago. 

I’m just trying to keep my head above the water and trying to figure out some systems that would make the job more manageable. Right now, my priority is to support the fall coaches. They need the show to keep running seamlessly, even though there’s a lot of transition going on. I have so much to learn, but that’s my priority. Take care of the fall coaches and make sure they don’t feel the transition. 

Why was the position available? Why do you think you were chosen?

There’s been a lot of transition at Kauai High School. We’ve had four principals, and I’d be the fourth athletic director we’ve had in the last six years. Just retirement and moving on to other jobs, so on and so forth. This job was available because Dino Pabre was the temporary assigned athletic director. 

At first, I thought being the athletic director would be like coaching — weekday nights and weekends. That’s what I walked away from. I wasn’t very keen on the idea until I really thought about the schedule and how flexible it is. With a little one in daycare and my older boy in elementary school, it gives me more flexibility. 

Why do I think I was the best candidate? I think running a football program, well actually taking two football programs from last place to first place, it takes a lot of groundwork, takes a lot of planning and takes a lot of systems. It takes communication and it takes vision, and I did it twice. Both programs, Kauai and Kapaa, when they got to their pinnacle, it’s 100 to 130 kids every year. It’s the largest program within an athletic department for the DOE (Department of Education), if you run it correctly, the JV and the varsity combined. There’s a lot of fundraising, a lot of paperwork, a lot of legalities, boosters. It’s a big animal. I think it prepared me for this job, even though the department itself is much larger that the football program itself. All the components, I believe, are the same. And all the skills needed to be successful are the same. So, I think it will translate well. 

You’ve already mentioned how demanding the job is. How are you handling things?

When Dino Pabre was giving me an orientation of what things that have to be done, I realized there’s no possible way he can tell me everything that is part of the job, my entire job description. It would just take too long. We didn’t have that kind of time. I realized there are so many different types of state forms and paperwork from transfer kids, to KIF constitution, fundraising forms, purchase orders, travel and grade checks. 

It’s a big animal. There’s so many moving parts. 

(I’ve talked) with Greg Gonsalves at Kapaa, the athletic director who was my boss and a great athletic director, I’m trying to learn from him as much as I can because he’s got a system down. Being a coach under his system was great. So, I want to borrow and steal as much of his system as I can. 

I realize everything happens for a reason. You have to be attuned to why things happen. I realized that I’m passionate about athletics. I’ve been an athlete or a coach my entire life. This is my wheelhouse. I understand how this works. This, I get this. This is what makes me tick. I think this is the right fit and I’m very happy so far, even though it’s chaotic. 

As a former Kauai High coach, what are your thoughts on the school’s new coach Derek Borrero?

He was my JV head coach when I was here. So, I know his style. Two of the greatest things going for him: he loves football and he loves Kauai High School. So, the kids are going to benefit from that. They’re going to feel his passion every day. He’s a fierce competitor, so they’re going to feel that as well. And they need to kind of re-learn that. Even though they did very well just two seasons ago, it feels like they’ve lost their way a little bit. 

(He is) a true Red Raider and loves the game. I think he can bring a lot to the table in terms of those intangibles, passion and competitive spirit. I know he’ll bring that back. And discipline. He’s a disciplinarian. Things have to be a certain way. 

What are your goals as the athletic director? Years from now, what do you hope to have accomplished?  

I shared a lot of this, a lot of my philosophies in my football programs, with the coaches in an athletic department meeting last week. I shared with them a lot of things that are mine, but most of it came from other people.  

Dave Eldredge was my intermediate football coach at Punahou. He was Mr. Punahou. He taught us at a very young age, ninth grade football, to win with humility and lose with grace. That’s important to me. I told my teams that all the time. Every year, they hear me say that over and over again. It’s something I’d like to bring to the department.  

What comes with that expectation is a rule: don’t attract attention to yourself. All of my players know that. If you get a sack, you shouldn’t be jumping around looking at the stands. It’s your job to get a sack. So, there’s a difference between exuberance and arrogance. I would like kids to celebrate with exuberance and pride, but not be attracting attention to themselves. Whether that’s shaving a Mohawk in their hair and making it red, writing on your arm or always looking at the stands, I’m not into that. So, we’re going to be humble in victory, and gracious in defeat.  

What I told all the coaches, this came from Phil Jackson in his book, a Hopi Indian saying which I loved as soon as I read it, ‘One finger cannot lift a pebble.’ I like that. I told all the coaches for the school that I don’t think we should be separate entitles. I think we need to build a department here. We need to have each other’s back. We have to cover for each other, without asking too much during your season. But we have to operate as a department. I don’t really think we are, currently. So, I want to bring us together because ‘one finger cannot lift a pebble.’ We need each others help.  

John Wooden, I love his books. I’ll read everything that John Wooden has ever written because he makes it so incredibly simple. And he’s the greatest motivator. He said that the greatest tool for discipline is the bench. Kids in the 1950s, 60s and 70s are no different than the kids today. If you teach them discipline, it’s through the bench — you sit them down, you take away playing time from them and you watch how they behave. If they pout, kick and scream, you kick them off the team because they’re there for (themselves), not for the team. If they support the team and the kid who replaced them, and they help coach them up from the sideline, you put them back in. They learned their lesson. They’re part of the team. But that’s how you test their character. I like that rule.  

Gordie Gillespie was Rudy’s high school football coach in Illinois — Notre Dame’s Rudy. I went to a coaches clinic and he was one of the speakers. He’s a big, Irish, Catholic man from, I think, Joliet, Illinois. Raspy voice and he’s yelling at us in there. He says, “Gentlemen, you are in the profession of shaping lives. There is no more noble profession than this.” I’ve never forgotten that, and I want our coaches to understand that. We may win and we may lose, but we’re in the profession of shaping lives. We use this game to teach lessons and shape who they are. It takes a village to raise a child. We are with someone’s child, depending on the sport, anywhere from 2-4 hours a day, six days a week, depending on the sport, football was six months. We’re shaping lives, and that’s important.  

These are all types of things. Mine, I’ve said the scoreboard is not for us. We don’t look at the scoreboard. It’s how we do things. And we never raise our finger, No. 1. I can’t stand that, until it’s true. You never take a picture going No. 1 until the season is over and you’re in first place. You don’t do that any other time because that’s attracting attention. It’s not about that. That’s the end result. I don’t want to look at the end result until it’s over. My thing, all my coaches know that: Get back to work. If we lost, what did we do wrong and how do we fix it. If we won, be proud of your accomplishment, see what you did right, fix what you did wrong and get back to work. It’s all about that. It’s the grind. Win or lose, get back to work.  

So, all these types of things. I want Kauai High to be fierce competitors, but to do it with integrity and pride. And be humble. All these things.  

 

 

 

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