Dick Tomey: Hawaii's Big Kahuna - Tucson News Now

Dick Tomey: Hawaii's Big Kahuna

Tucson, AZ (KOLD) – Dick Tomey doesn’t hesitate when asked.

“Going to Hawaii changed my whole life.”

Of course it did. How could it not? Living in paradise would change anyone’s life.

But, wait. It’s not that simple. Because for Tomey, a kid who grew up on the northern tip of conservative Indiana, the change he describes is one of sincere evolution.

“It brought Asia and the South Pacific and Southeast Asia and all that part of the world Australia. It brought all those places into my world view.”

It took nearly 15 years into his football career before Tomey’s world view was allowed to change. 15 years as an assistant roaming the sidelines for the likes of Bo Schembechler, Dick Vermeil, and Terry Donahue before the opportunity he’d been yearning for finally came to fruition.

“Everybody had turned the job down,” he said. “All the people I knew. And I wanted it. It didn’t make sense to a lot of my friends but I wanted it because I just thought, why can’t you have a program you can be really proud of here?”

So the virtual unknown took the job paying $30,000 a year. 

In June of 1977, with no spring practice, no chance to recruit, all while living with his two assistants in a room at the Holiday Inn, Tomey set about explaining to the community his vision for improving a program that had finished 15 and 18 the last three seasons.

“Everyone has this mechanism where they’re just spouting off all these excuses why you can’t be special here. I said I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to hear any of them.”

If there was one thing standing in his way, it was time. Or the lack thereof.

“That first year we had six weeks to do what it normally takes 8 months to do.”

Tomey’s first year on the job was rough and ended with a 5-6 record.

10 seasons later, when he left Hawaii to take over Arizona, Tomey held the record for most program wins. 63.

“As I got to know the place I believe it was more of a cause than a job,” he said. “It was a cause to try and make this little speck in the middle of the ocean special in intercollegiate athletics. We could change the way people thought about Hawaii football. And we did.”

In the end, Hawaii changed Tomey as much as Tomey changed Hawaii. Arizona became the benefactor.

“(Arizona) played a certain way because we weren’t viewed as that high echelon team,” said Tomey. “So we played with a chip on our shoulder. And that’s the way we were in Hawaii. We didn’t feel entitled. We felt like we had to be tougher and more physical. We got guys who believed that. That’s what made it so spectacular. Here and at Hawaii.”

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