The year 2016 has been such an anomaly.
So many great figures in entertainment — sports included — has passed away this year.
Boxing icon Muhammad Ali, polarizing mixed-martial artist Kevin Furguson a.k.a. Kimbo Slice, hockey legend Gordie Howe, and famed BMX biker Dave Mirra are a few of the great sporing figures who’ve died.
Sadly, two more passed away Tuesday — renowned college women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt and revered football coach Buddy Ryan.
Some of Kauai’s high school coaches took time to comment about these two great legends.
Putting women’s basketball on the map
Summitt is celebrated as a trailblazer who put women’s athletics in the national spotlight.
She became the winningest coach in Division I college basketball history — male or female — with 1,098 career wins as the head coach at the University of Tennessee. During her 38 seasons at the helm for the Lady Vols, her program won eight NCAA championships and had 18 Final Four appearances.
“Just by watching the way she coaches and the way she handles her team during wins and losses, I took a lot of what she did,” said Kapaa High School girls basketball varsity head coach William Aki in a phone interview Tuesday. “I wanted to apply that kind of coaching to my teams.”
Aki added his daughter, Jessilyn, idolized Summit’s teams.
“She wanted to play for Tennessee,” the Warriors coach said. “All those players and all those championships, it’s just a sad day for women’s basketball.”
Summitt announced in 2011 she was diagnosed with early onset dementia. She coached one more season at Tennessee before retiring in 2012. She was 64 years old when she passed Tuesday.
“I know she was a really big believer in preparation and attention to detail, and intensity and hard work,” said Kauai High varsity girls basketball coach James Dingus on Tuesday. “I think she was maybe the first national coach who really put women’s basketball, or girls basketball, on the map before (University of Connecticut) really got rolling with Geno Auriemma. I think she was one of the trailblazers, the groundbreakers, for the sport of women’s basketball.”
Waimea girls varsity head coach Brandon Moises was watching reports of Summit’s passing Tuesday.
“The way she established the program, the idea that she started off getting paid $250 a month to be a head coach of a Division I program, it tells you it wasn’t about the money. It wasn’t about the fame,” Moises said. “It was about her dedication to seeing these young women excel, not only in the gym but in life.”
Moises added what made Summitt exceptional as a coach was her ability to raise the playing level of her players.
“Anyone can win with with great players,” Moises said in a later text Tuesday. “The special ones can make great players, (make) a team and win. She had the support of a whole state and made women’s basketball an equal force in college athletics.”
The innovator of one of NFL’s greatest defenses
Ryan is admired as a football defensive mastermind and creator of the vaunted “46 defense” during the 1980s and early 1990s.
It was that defensive scheme that helped lead the Chicago Bears in 1985, where he served as the defensive coordinator, to a Super Bowl championship in 1985. That 1985 Bears defense is considered one of the best defenses in the history of the National Football League.
Ryan was 85 years old when he passed Tuesday.
“We lost a good man, and good football coach and football mind,” said Kapaa High School defensive coordinator Mike Tresler on Tuesday. “As a football coach, a defensive-minded football coach, you always look up to these other coaches such as Buddy Ryan who had such a big impact. Yeah, it’s sad to hear that news.”
The Bears were 15-1 in that 1985 season en route to winning the title, despite numerous feuds between Ryan and then-head coach Mike Ditka.
Kapaa varsity head coach Philip Rapozo was a senior in high school when Chicago won the championship in 1985.
“He just, his defense played the way he coached,” Rapozo said Wednesday. “Sometimes (there was) controversy, but they were tough like he was.”
Rapozo added: “I just liked the way he didn’t worry about what anybody thought. He just went about business his way.”
Waimea High School varsity football coach Jason Caldeira was 5 years old when the ‘85 Bears won the title.
“I know he discovered the 46. I just remember him as the coach of Reggie White and Jerome Brown,” Caldeira said Tuesday. “He was a trailblazer.”
Caldeira added some of his old coaches at Waimea have similarities to Ryan.
“He reminds me of some of my coaches — hard-nosed and no tolerance,” the Menehune coach said. “Coach Jon Kobayashi, Coach Tommy Rita and Coach Patrick Pereira, he reminds of those type of old-school coaches.”
Kauai High varsity football head coach Derek Borrero said he was playing football in junior college during the 80s, but didn’t fully understand Ryan’s impact as a coach until he became a coach himself.
“Not until I got into the coaching ranks that I really, as I was learning how to coach and understand defense, what this man was truly about,” Borrero said Wednesday. “That nasty 46 defense that he put together, he took it wherever he went and was extremely successful. Only then I realized what this man was.”
Ryan’s two sons, Rex and Rob, both currently coach for the Buffalo Bills — Rex as the head coach and Rob as an assistant.
“Watch out for Rex Ryan. Every time he steps out on that field, he’s going to be thinking about his daddy every time he coaches,” Borrero said. “When you got legends like that, you think they’re going to live forever because they’ve touched so many lives. When someone’s goes down like that, it’s going to affect on everyone in some way or some form. It gives you a moment to just reflect on how lucky we are.”
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this story.