Suspensions not how Rolovich hoped to start spring season

Spring practice is a little bit like pre-school. You want to teach some of the basics, but it’s more about just getting comfortable with one another and integrating the new kids. The main objective is to complete the session without injury and without incident.

The first spring season under new head coach Nick Rolovich isn’t going exactly to plan.

Two of the team’s best players will be out for the rest of the spring and possibly longer than that. All-Mountain West First Teamer Kennedy Tulimasealii and fellow defensive lineman Ka’aumoana Gifford were each suspended by Coach Rolovich after both were arrested last week. Tulimasealii has been charged with suspicion of abuse, harassment, resisting arrest and contempt. Gifford was allegedly yelling at police officers not to arrest Tulimasealii and was subsequently charged with obstruction.

Hawaii News Now has since reported that Tulimasealii has had abusive interactions before and roommates of his girlfriend have attempted to file temporary restraining orders, but later failed to show up for the hearings.

These circumstances put Rolovich in a difficult position as the new boss. Tulimasealii is the most talented player on the Rainbow Warrior roster. While he hasn’t yet been convicted of a crime, the manner in which Rolovich addresses his situation will set the tone for his tenure.

Quickly suspending both players was the right move. But there will probably be a mix of reaction from his players, many of whom are holdovers from the previous administration. So far, the players’ loyalty is to one another and not as much to a coach for whom they’ve never played a single game.

But Rolovich’s responsibility to the community should take precedence and he needs to make sure that this is taken care of justly.

That doesn’t mean cutting the pair of linemen loose. If the charges are found to be credible and convictions or pleas do occur, keeping Tulimasealii off the field will be a necessity. But the university also has a responsibility to its students and as of now, Tulimasealii is still enrolled at UH. If he does have a pattern of abuse in his personal relationships, addressing that with him and facilitating help should be a priority. Not only for his benefit, but for the rest of the student body.

All too often, stories emerge about campus police or administrators sweeping incidents under the rug, only for them to be uncovered later on. Other than the simple immorality of such actions, they can instantly stain a program. The Tennessee Volunteers are the most recent example of what appears to be some institutional impropriety and that program has been grilled in the media for months.

College coaches love to talk about their responsibilities as builders of men. I’d say that most of the time, they truly are invested in that process. While a player’s actions may warrant a benching, being firm about consequences shouldn’t also mean scrapping the individual. Hopefully the team and program is willing and able to help all parties sufficiently.

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

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