Back in the game
Larry Farmer returns to coaching as an assistant to Bob Nash at UH
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Some 20 years after his first bid to coach in Hawaii, Larry Farmer finally has himself an office on the Manoa campus.
Back in 1987, Farmer -- then the head man at Weber State -- inquired about the recently vacated head coaching position at Hawaii. That job eventually went to Riley Wallace, who held on to the spot for the next two decades.
In the meantime, Farmer, who got his first head coaching job at UCLA in 1981 at age 30, embarked on a journey that included various assistant roles and head coaching jobs in Kuwait and finally with Loyola-Chicago.
After three years as a broadcaster, Farmer was itching to return to coaching and asked to be considered for an assistant job at Hawaii when Bob Nash was hired to succeed Wallace in April.
"The thing for me is always being around the players in practice," said Farmer, a part of UCLA's John Wooden-led dynasty as a player.
"So by the time I got to the second year where I was doing TV and I'm getting to see the practices, now you start to get antsy.
"Then last year, I was pretty ready to get back."
Nash granted Farmer his shot to return to coaching, adding his experience to the UH staff last week along with associate coach Jackson Wheeler and assistant Eran Ganot.
Farmer arrived in town on Tuesday and is busy settling into his new surroundings. As he takes care of moving his family from Illinois to Hawaii, he's also preparing for his role on the staff and is slated to start recruiting later this month.
"I'd rather be doing this than working for a living," said Farmer.
"Anything involving basketball has never been a job for me."
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The past few days have been a whirlwind for Larry Farmer.
The newest member of the Hawaii basketball team's coaching staff arrived in Honolulu on Tuesday and spent much of yesterday filling out forms and chipping away at the lengthy to-do list inherent in moving from Illinois to Hawaii.
Not that the well-traveled coach is unfamiliar with the process of relocating.
"Certainly in this business, you do this more than once in your life," Farmer said.
Farmer's far-flung coaching journey began in 1975 at UCLA, where he would eventually be handed the reins of one of college basketball's most storied programs. It took him across the country and as far as the Middle East over a span of close to three decades.
And after a three-year stint in broadcasting, Farmer is returning to the sideline this season with the Rainbow Warriors.
Farmer was hired by first-year UH head coach Bob Nash last week, bringing his background as a member of UCLA's John Wooden-led dynasty and experience as a head coach at three schools to a staff that includes associate coach Jackson Wheeler and new assistant Eran Ganot.
It was a visit to Hawaii last January that triggered the chain of events that led to Farmer's arrival this week. He was in town to work UH's game against Nevada and chatted with former coach Riley Wallace about his upcoming retirement.
"I started thinking at that point this could be a possibility. That if Coach Nash moved up, he would be a person I could work for," Farmer said.
"I got to see Coach Nash in practice, his involvement, how he teaches, his style. When he got the job I was really happy for him. Then I got kind of excited because when you're looking at the jobs you want to go after, not that you can get them, it started to look like a good fit."
Though Farmer, 56, is new to the program, he does have a couple of ties to Hawaii basketball.
As a player during UCLA's dynasty under John Wooden in the early 1970s, his freshman roommate, Marv Vititoe, transferred to Hawaii. As a Bruins assistant, he helped Gavin Smith find his way to UH.
He worked two telecasts of Rainbow games last year, and though UH lost both games -- an overtime defeat to Nevada and a three-point loss to Utah State in the Western Athletic Conference tournament -- the team's efforts in both left an impression.
"They were very hard-working, very scrappy," Farmer said. "Hawaii had a great chance to win (the Nevada) game, but they kept themselves in it because they were scrappy. ... I think the core of what you have coming back is really experienced, so I think we can be real competitive."
Much of Farmer's coaching philosophy was shaped during his time at UCLA, first as a player under Wooden and later as an assistant and eventually head coach.
He contributed to three of UCLA's string of seven national championships and was team captain during UCLA's 30-0 campaign in 1972-73.
"When you're there you don't really know you're going to be a part of history and (Wooden) wouldn't let us become egomaniacs about our success," Farmer said. "It's not until long after you leave and the more people start to talk about what you did, the more you really become aware of how special that was."
He returned to Westwood as an assistant coach in 1975 and was promoted to the head job in 1981 at age 30 to succeed Larry Brown. The Bruins went 21-6 in his first season and 23-6 the following year, winning the Pac-10 title. But the Bruins went one-and-out in the NCAA Tournament his first two years and finished 17-11 in his final year.
"I was a part of the monster that was created," Farmer said. "I wasn't naive about the expectations or the pressure. I was an assistant for three different head coaches, so I saw what they went through. So even though I was young I knew what to expect."
He went on to Weber State for three years, then moved across the globe to coach in Kuwait. He returned to college coaching as an assistant at Rhode Island in 1997 and spent six years as head coach at Loyola-Chicago, starting in 1998, before going into broadcasting.
While calling games for Fox Sports, ESPN and CBS Radio, Farmer spent much of those seasons watching teams and visiting practices with an eye on adding to his repertoire for a return to coaching.
"I am one of the best thieves in the game," he said with a wry grin. "I never take credit for any individual ideas, most of mine have come from seeing what other really good coaches have done. ... When you know that you're eventually looking to get back, you're constantly looking to steal little things you can later use."
While Farmer gets acclimated in Hawaii, his family is back in Illinois preparing for the move. His son, Larry III, is entering his freshman year at Denison College, where he'll play for the Division III program. His wife, Chris, and 12-year-old daughter, Kendall, are looking forward to joining him in the islands.
"(Chris) went to Kuwait, so, although this is another move where I'm bringing her halfway around the world, this is a much nicer destination than Kuwait City," Farmer said.