UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII ATHLETICS
Wagner chooses to focus on the positive times at UH
It was bittersweet, his feeling about being selected to the University of Hawaii Circle of Honor. After all, three years after coaching the Rainbow football team to a share of its first conference title and victory in its first mainland bowl game, Bob Wagner was fired.
Yesterday, Wagner chose to emphasize the "sweet" part of bittersweet.
"I got feedback from people who thought I shouldn't accept this," he said after yesterday's luncheon at sponsoring Bank of Hawaii. "But from my standpoint as head coach, you're representing a lot of other people -- players, support staff, other coaches. It's more than about you.
"And coming in with Ma'a is just great. To see a young man like Ma'a become the great player he became, the great person and role model in the community as a University of Hawaii graduate and football player touches my heart."
Wagner had the honor of introducing Tanuvasa, a co-captain of the 1992 Holiday Bowl championship team, during yesterday's luncheon. Joining the two in this year's class is former three-sport athlete Charlie Bessette, who went on to become the manager at Honolulu and Aloha stadiums.
Wagner shared how Tanuvasa was not a great student and was asked to leave the school because of academic problems.
"He came to my office and said, 'Coach, I want to come back," Wagner recalled. "Once he came back, he never had another academic problem.
"He could have played anywhere on the defense, but we needed him to play nose guard in our system."
Tanuvasa later returned the compliments.
"It's incredible to be inducted with Coach Wagner," the former NFL player said. "He molded my career at UH, taught me how to play football the way it's meant to be played. I looked at him as a father figure away from home.
"Our team was always at the bottom of the WAC and we decided senior year that we were going to prove people wrong."
Tanuvasa, an eighth-round draft pick by the Rams, went on to play nine years in the NFL. He was a member of the 1997 and '98 Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.
Wagner is now the athletic director at Kamehameha-Hawaii. He has applied for the open UH athletic director post.
Bessette, 85, retired as stadium manager in 1988. He played football, basketball and baseball for UH but is best known for his football prowess as a triple-threat at halfback. He scored twice in the 33-32 win over Redlands in the 1948 Pineapple Bowl.
They will be formally inducted during halftime of tonight's basketball game between Hawaii and Utah State. They join 79 individuals and eight teams whose plaques are displayed on the inner concourse of the Stan Sheriff Center.