Donovan worked his way all the way to the top at UH
Jim Donovan, the new University of Hawaii athletic director, answers questions about his background in the second of a two-part question-and-answer session.
Yesterday, the Star-Bulletin presented questions and answers with Jim Donovan about his vision for his new job as University of Hawaii athletic director. In today's conclusion, Donovan talks about his background, from growing up in California to how he got into athletic administration and his previous stint at UH as associate athletic director.
Q: When you didn't get the job in 2002 you were able to keep a happy face. How difficult was it to swallow what had to be a huge disappointment?
A: Herman (Frazier) was actually very good to me. He had a welcoming party in the Ed Wong room, and it went from 12 to 1 (p.m.). I left there around 12:35. He came to my office at around 12:45 and said, "I've heard a lot of good things about you and you can keep your job, don't worry about that, I definitely would like to have you on my team, and you'll be evaluated just like everybody else."
Just so happens, the next day ESPN called me and asked me if I was interested in being executive director (of the Hawaii Bowl). The way I looked at it was if I stay people will come to me and try to get Herman to change his mind on something. If I keep on going to Herman I become the squeaky wheel that gets replaced, if I don't go to Herman I become ineffective to the people that are approaching me. So I thought it might be best to take the opportunity to go to the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
Herman asked me to stay for six weeks, so my first day at the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl was Sept. 16. We had no paperwork, no nothing, and we had basically 100 days to pull off a bowl game. I didn't have time to be down or anything. I was just so focused on pulling off a bowl game.
I realized when I took that job how important it was for the UH football program to have this bowl game that would be on national TV in the middle of recruiting season. I've always wanted what's best for the university. I don't have any regrets. I think I've grown through having the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl job.
Q: Your wife Tracy worked in the UH athletic department for quite a few years and she still works at UH. Will this be helpful for you?
A: I think the most important thing is that because she's worked in athletics, she knows the hours and the commitment that it takes to really make athletics successful and flourish. That's the biggest help to me, that she's very understanding in that regard. Because she worked in athletics for 10 to 12 years she can really give me some input and be someone I can bounce things off of. That's very helpful.
Q: Your family loves sports and loves UH, but regardless of that, especially with two teenagers don't you need to find a way to balance family and work?
A: I'll be going to a lot of games, because my daughter (Jaqueline) plays three sports: judo, volleyball and basketball, and my son (Joshua) plays baseball and football. Between the UH sports and their sports, hopefully I won't be sleeping while I'm driving. Both of them go to Mid-Pac, so at least the location is convenient.
Q: Tell me about your parents and their influence on your career and your values. Also, do you have brothers and sisters?
A: I do have one brother and two sisters, came from a family of six. We're very middle class. Mom (Mary) didn't have to work, Dad (Jim) was an aerospace engineer. They provided us with everything that they could, mostly support and love. They sent me to a college-prep school and that was fantastic. My brother and sisters are very happy for me, and in their own right have been very successful.
Q: What was it like growing up in the shadow of Disneyland?
A: I spent most of my years growing up in Anaheim. Walt Disney is one of the people I respect the most. If there was a person I could meet who had passed away, for me, Walt Disney would be in my top three. His imagination and vision, to see it lasting 50 years later is beyond description. What a visionary he was.
When it comes to the entertainment, education side of it, believe me, we will try to model ourselves, on the entertainment side of it, the way he has set it up, that whole Disney structure. In that sense, growing up next to Disney helped me understand what customer service was all about, how to make people smile, how to create memories.
Q: Did you ever work there as a kid?
A: No, I didn't. I tried out for one of their electric light parade things. I didn't make the cut. I was an offensive lineman and didn't have the ballerina skills. Didn't have the right body frame.
Q: What was your first job?
A: I was a newspaper boy when I was 12. On Sundays the Orange County Register seemed like it had 400 pages, had to make three trips.
But it was very good, you interacted with people, you knew if you gave good customer service you'd get tips. It was a great experience for me. You were held financially responsible for every paper, so you learned real quickly about expenses and revenues.
Q: Were you always an offensive lineman?
A: I always played offense and defensive line. I always wished I could play linebacker. I loved playing defensive line because it was usually take a couple of steps and then kill the guy with the ball and that was a lot of fun.
Moving up to the intercollegiate level, I didn't have the upper body size or height to be a real effective defensive lineman. But I was fine as an offensive guard, I could move quickly. A lot of sweeps and pulling guard stuff.
Q: Most good football players compete with controlled rage. How does that translate into the business of being a good athletic administrator?
A: I think athletics teach you how to accomplish extreme focus. The thing I learned through athletics is if you get angry, in all likelihood you will lose that one-on-one battle against the person across from you. You have assignments to do and the assignments don't always translate to one individual, sometimes you don't block that person in front of you, but you seal off a linebacker.
But if you get angry at that person in front of you, you over focus on him and you never get to the linebacker and he makes the play.
So who really wins? The other guy does, because you got angry.
You learn to focus, and don't get angry. It distracts you, and ultimately causes you to lose.
Q: Was football always your favorite sport?
A: I'd play around in basketball and baseball, but football was by far what I enjoyed the most and excelled in. I was a physical kid, I loved getting in there and grappling. Wrestled in junior high.
The thing about football I really loved was I'm out there with 10 other guys, so there's real team bonding, and you get to hit somebody. I never wanted to hurt somebody. I just wanted, at the end of the game, to feel like I did my job, I beat the other person, and we got more points on the scoreboard than they did.
Q: Where did you want to go to college and why did you go to junior college?
A: That's a great question. I actually signed to go to Cal Poly. I didn't have many scholarship offers, the academies, Cal Poly, Santa Clara, and San Diego State were looking at me.
I wanted to go to USC or UCLA. I was 6-2, they were looking for 6-4. They both said I could walk on, but I wanted a scholarship.
About two weeks after I got the Cal Poly scholarship, Purdue contacted my head coach and they said they wanted to offer me a scholarship. I tried to get out of Cal Poly and they wouldn't let me. So I enrolled in junior college and was there two years.
(UH offensive line coach) Tom Freeman came in and recruited me.
Q: How long were you able to keep the dream of being a professional player alive and when did you realize you might have to do something else?
A: In 1982 we had Jesse Sapolu, Gary Allen, Mark Tuinei, a pretty good team with some talented players.
The Dallas Cowboys came and set up a table in our weight room. Their defensive coordinator, Ernie Stautner, talked to six of us. He asked me if I would like to become a free agent for the Dallas Cowboys. I said well, honestly, what's my chances (of making the team)? He said, son, I'm not going to lie to you. You don't have a chance in hell. But I need some very good young players to come in and block Randy White and Ed Too Tall Jones in practice and make them earn their spots and get better, and I know you can do that."
He said I'd get paid $2,000 a week and he figured I'd last about five weeks.
"But the only catch is you have to take care of your own medical if you get hurt."
I said can I think about it for a day? The next day, I said, I really appreciate it, but I really appreciate your honesty and I'm gonna pass.
Q: Was that when you started thinking about athletic administration, or was it coaching at that point?
A: I wanted to be a coach. It just so happened at the end of the two years (as a graduate assistant at UH), Rockne Freitas gave me, through my hanai mom or dad, he said there's an opening at the baseball stadium.
As much as I loved coaching, the coaching paid $400 a month and the baseball stadium job paid about $1,500 a month. So I decided to go and do that and it was great he gave me that opportunity and it went from there.
Q: What is something you're good at that maybe a lot of people don't know?
A: I'm really good at walking. I walk almost every day from my house down to Sandy's or Blowhole and back. Anywhere from 4 to 6 miles.
I don't think I'll be able to do that as much anymore. I'm sure the time constraints won't allow that. Now probably a treadmill with a TV on to keep up with the news. I know how important working out is on several levels.
Q: What is something you're not so good at that people might be surprised to learn?
A: I play tennis, but I can never get that ball onto that square on the other side. Not very good at tennis.
Q: What did you learn from Hugh Yoshida?
A: For me, Hugh was my last mentor in a sense. I work very closely with Pete Derzis at ESPN, and he helped me grow too, but he's in Charlotte, N. C., and I'm in Honolulu, thousands of miles away.
Hugh was my last hands-on mentor. He taught me how to listen, how people will often come to a solution to a problem if you let them work to it. If they're headed in the wrong direction, maybe you steer them back. The ambassador qualities that you need as an athletic director.
He taught me how to create an ohana environment in the athletic department, which I think is very important, because these people work very long hours and they need to know they're appreciated and loved and cared for. Hugh was very good at that.
He taught me how to build consensus and view the lay of the land politically and determine what is appropriate and not appropriate.
Q: Despite that, the thing many people remember about Hugh and you is the firing of Bob Wagner. What are your thoughts of that situation?
A: Bob Wagner is a great man. He brought us to the Holiday Bowl, to the Aloha Bowl. I didn't think he should be present at the press conference announcing the change. But I was associate athletic director and that was decided in the president's office, so you don't win on that one. I felt bad for Bob, and I still do, because I think people should focus on the good he did, not how he got let go.
Stage two was the whole interaction with Riley (Wallace at the press conference). Somehow it's become urban legend that I was threatening Riley, that I was going to fire him.
Riley was upset, and you can't blame him because he felt Bob was brought out there to be beaten up by everybody, and he was speaking up to that. I saw President Mortimer's face getting more and more upset, so I went over to him and said "Coach, you need to cool it." He told me to get lost in different words than get lost.
I went back over to where I was, and Riley got into it again, more and more heated. I was getting worried that this might cost Riley his job. I told him, "Are you trying to make it a two for one deal?"
I thought Riley did an admirable job with our program.
It's tough to be the men's basketball coach at the University of Hawaii. I loved his fiery style. I just didn't want to see him get fired that day.
Q: What was your role in bringing June Jones to Hawaii in 1999?
A: I think June always wanted to come back to Hawaii. Of course, the selection committee did a great job. My role is, I talked with him at Jack Murphy Stadium at a Chargers game, and he said he'd always be interested in coming back to coach at Hawaii. I had some follow-up conversations with him and he got more excited about it.
Ed Wong, Dr. Miyawaki and John Fink, and Hugh, the committee, did the rest. I was there, but didn't have to say much because I'd already been talking with June.
And everyone knows the rest of the story.