Kalani Simpson


By Kalani Simpson

Saturday, May 11, 2002

Hawaii still holds all the cards

IT'S great, yeah?, to see the confidence in Mike Wilton's eyes these days. You can't help but laugh a little in appreciation as you watch him on TV, being interviewed about his current contract situation and he's saying cool things like, "I enjoy feeding and clothing my family" and "a LOT of things need to be done here, a LOT of things need to be addressed."

I get a kick out of this delicious new bravado, because the tables have finally been turned. It was only a few months ago that Wilton had to eke by, hanging, waiting to see if UH would take him back, scratching out year-to-year deals, always going right up to the deadline before something got done, or even past it. He started this championship campaign without a contract, in fact, before the university finally deigned to officially sign him up through the rest of the season.

And every year the same question came up: Would UH let him coach again? And mostly, he had no answers, and his public comments took on a distinctly different tone then than they do now.

(Because he really does like feeding and clothing his family.)

But now Wilton has a national championship in one hand, and the BYU job in the other, and for once the power is his, and he can feel it, and in a delicious twist of fate, the shoe is on the other foot at last.

But not so fast, Coach.

Didn't the Hawaii football team win nine games, with thrills and comebacks and last-second victories, punting unbeaten bitter rival BYU into oblivion? And didn't June Jones want a contract renegotiation? And didn't he hold all the cards, weren't there rumors that he was up for this job, or he could snap his fingers and get that job? And didn't his agent say that if there was no deal that Hawaii might just lose Jones?

And what happened?

Nothing. Nothing, that's what happened. The silence was deafening.

Then, Riley Wallace. His contract was running out, and he wanted to set up a new deal. He even hired an agent. Nothing. So Wallace went out and had the greatest Hawaii basketball season since the Fabulous Five, and the next one could be just as good.

Nothing again. He pushed away from the table, too, and now he's hanging in mid-air, working without a contract.

Somebody at UH has a great poker face.

That has to be it. Somebody at UH is looking at these guys and saying, You know what, I know what you've got in your hand. They've had the edge on Wilton for years. They beat Jones at the PR game. And really, at this point in his career, where else is Wallace going to go?

It's like a lot of things in Hawaii, where there is a monopoly on our way of life, and we play on its terms. We pay higher gas prices, for instance. We have a higher cost of living, often with lower wages. This is partly due to economic factors. And partly due to, what are we going to do about it -- move to the mainland? No. And these coaches aren't either.

So they threaten and they hint, they try to convince us that they have bigger places they could go. But they're bluffing, and someone at UH knows it.

Wilton has family here, and for men's volleyball there's no place better. Wallace has been here 15 years, he's finally got his program rolling the way he wants it, and the other places he'd be interested in (Tulsa, Fresno State) weren't interested back.

Someone is always telling us how many job offers Jones has, but UH held firm, and the only job he has today is this one.

Advantage, UH.

Jones has often mentioned how much he has "sacrificed" to come here. We all do, to live here. We do it because we have to, we do it because it's worth it.

We do it because they have us, we have no choice, if we want to live in Hawaii, our home. It's a monopoly. What are we going to do, go live on the mainland?

The gas companies, jacking up the prices, know it.

Maybe someone at the University of Hawaii, someone with a great poker face, knows it too.

But now Wilton thinks he has an unbeatable hand at last. They need him more than he needs them.

But we'll see if he has to lose (and leave) in order to finally win.

Kalani Simpson can be reached at

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