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Arizona’s Ex-Rainbow Coalition

5 members of UA’s coaching staff have ties to Hawaii – and bittersweet memories, too


Kanani Souza and George Lumpkin tomorrow night will be at the place they used to call home.

When the Arizona Wildcats parade into Aloha Stadium to meet Hawaii’s Rainbow Warriors, it will be a reunion entwined in a football game.

Former Hawaii head coaches Dick Tomey and Bob Wagner will be there, too, only this time they won’t be wearing leis. They’ll be on the opposite sideline.

UA assistants Duane Akina and Rich Ellerson coached at UH, too, and Wildcats offensive coordinator Dino Babers played for Tomey in Honolulu. All five were together at UH from 1981-83.

”Some of my best friends in the whole world are there,” Tomey said. ”I hear from them all the time, and I’ve heard from some of them this week and I want to see some of them when we’re out there.”

Lumpkin gave the university 22 years, and Souza gave 10 before they were ushered out along with Wagner after the 1995 season.

Never mind that they were part of Hawaii’s only championship season since joining the Western Athletic Conference in 1979.

Never mind that they were part of the university’s only major bowl victory, a 27-17 thumping of Illinois to cap an 11-2 season in 1992.

Souza is the head coach at football powerhouse Kamehameha High School and Lumpkin is his defensive coordinator. Together they’ve produced championship teams and coached two current Wildcats, offensive linemen Steven Grace and Makoa Freitas.

Akina, Souza and Lumpkin interviewed for the vacant UH job that went to Fred vonAppen.

Somewhere deep inside, the bitterness smolders. But publicly, Souza still backs the university.

He understands the respect Tomey, Wagner and Akina have in Hawaii, but he said islanders are very proud of the Rainbow Warriors. It will make tomorrow night very special.

”Dick, Bob and Duane, they have a lot of dear friends here and they are respected on this island,” Souza said. ”There will be a lot of people pulling for them, but Hawaii is still our state school.”

Tomey helped bring Hawaii into the WAC. As the wins piled up, so did the lines outside the ticket office. The Rainbows went from averaging 18,000 fans a game to a school-record 45,765 in 1984, when UH went 7-4. The rise remains an NCAA record.

”They were ready for growth, and I was fortunate to be there at that time,” Tomey said. ”I have a great affinity and a great love for the islands. There’s no secret about that and I’ve gone back a lot to renew ties. I’ve vacationed there a lot.

”A lot of the guys I coached are now coaching themselves and are getting to the age where they’re, business-wise, doing some outstanding things back there.”

In Tomey’s last visit to Hawaii, the Cats were blanked 28-0 by Syracuse in the 1990 Aloha Bowl.

Wagner was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach when Tomey moved to Arizona and the winning continued.

But a combination of stiffer academic standards, losing records his last two years and dwindling attendance doomed Wagner. Hawaii’s new president and athletic director pulled the plug on Wagner, Souza, Lumpkin and others after 3-8-1 and 4-8 seasons.

”We finally got to a bowl game, finally won a championship and we were doing some good things,” Wagner said. ”It will be hard for them to win if there’s not a commitment, if they don’t keep up with the Joneses.”

Hawaii has fashioned 2-10 and 3-9 seasons under vonAppen, who has failed to draw huge crowds to Aloha Stadium.

That only helps the Wildcats recruit the island. Last year, in addition to Freitas, UA scooped up defensive linemen Keoni Fraser and Ben Alualu. All will make the trip, but Alualu, who has an injured knee, won’t play.

”With all the publicity we’ll all get, if we can go back there and play well – and a couple of those young kids will be on the trip – we can make some inroads,” Wagner added.

But Akina said the focus is still the game.

”They’re going to make a big deal about all of us returning,” said Akina. Both he and his wife, Donna, are native Hawaiians. His three brothers still live there.

”Next to the quarterbacks, that’s the story, I guess,” Akina said. ”Obviously you’re going back to play in front of family and friends, so you want to play well.”

Arizona quarterback Keith Smith understands the Rainbows will be out to spoil the homecoming.

”Being a player over there, I’m sure it would be frustrating. All you hear is coach Tomey . . . they want to beat him now,” Smith said. ”Hawaii has a good program, and they’re going to be coming after us harder than any game this year because of coach Tomey’s past history over there. We just have to back him up and get a big ‘W’ for coach Tomey.”

Aside from the coaching ties and players returning to their home state, the game presents a family feud for Arizona receiver Brad Brennan, whose brother, Brent, is a graduate assistant coach for the Rainbow Warriors.

”Everybody will be there, our parents, grandparents,” Brad said. ”We’ve never competed against each other, except in the back yard, so we’re looking forward to it.”

Brent Brennan played receiver at UCLA from 1991-95 before coaching at Woodside High School in California the past two seasons.

Babers, born in Honolulu while his father was stationed there in the military, led the Rainbows in rushing in 1983.

”Even though I moved away at very young age, I met my wife there and went to school there,” Babers said. ”We love the islands, and it will always hold a special place.”

That said, Babers said it will be very difficult to go back there for a football game against his alma mater.

”Their theme song is ‘Hawaii 5-0,’ ” Babers explained. ”There are only two things that put goose bumps on my arm: the theme from ‘Hawaii 5-0′ and my wife.”


Associated head coach Duane Akina’s Hawaii roots run deep.

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