Wilton will not leave Warriors with a whimper


POSTED: Saturday, April 18, 2009

Feisty to the finish.

Wouldn't expect it any other way with Mike Wilton.

Hawaii's men's volleyball coach always spoke his mind in his 17 years at Manoa, so of course he did the same in our exit interview this week.

We agreed that it didn't have to end this way, that UH could still be enjoying the ridiculously huge crowds, on-court success and black ledger numbers of the previous decade.

I asked him if the “;adults”; in this situation—the athletic department administration—ruined the fun. A loaded question, but Mike has never minded them.

“;Yes, like anything else,”; Wilton spit. “;Little League, any youth sports. Grown-ups come in and mess it up.”;

Instead of leaving a good thing alone—10,000 general admission maniacs filling the Stanley match after match—UH raised prices and turned it into a reserved seating situation. In effect it sent the new fans, the youngsters, up to their room ... and eventually, they ran away from home.

“;They were relegated to the upper level,”; Wilton said. “;And (the emphasis on season-ticket sales) crushed the spontaneity. These were young people who don't think much beyond what's for lunch.”;

IT HAD BEEN a phenomenon never seen before or since. Basketball (Fabulous Five), women's volleyball (four national championships) and football (Sugar Bowl) were wildly popular, but this was men's volleyball. Crowds were always small, and Wilton was worried about embarrassingly small crowds as the team moved matches from Klum Gym to the Stanley.

“;We wrote letters to the high schools, telling them if their band came we'd let their students in free.”;

But instead of withering (that would come later) the Warriors went viral in 1995 and '96. Yuval Katz fronted a collection of cosmopolitan coverboys who caught the fancy of the state—especially the ladies, tweenagers on up.

They were “;Twilight”; and the Jonas Brothers combined, with Susan Boyle talent. The Warriors had to use escape and evasion tactics to get out of the arena without being mobbed.

But that group never won a national championship.

It came later, in 2002. But then it was gone as quickly, the NCAA vacating the title because star Costas Theocharidis had played with pros. This bothers Wilton because, he claims, other schools have done the same.

It also eats at him that he isn't being allowed to name his successor.

“;I'll tell anyone who will listen it should be Tino (Reyes),”; Wilton said, referring to his longtime assistant.

DEPENDING ON YOUR perspective, he was a watchdog ombudsman or a major PITA (if you need that spelled out for you, e-mail me) around lower campus.

I always enjoyed him. Honest, articulate and interesting.

The fans will adore him tonight, but deep down many have mixed feelings about Wilton, always have, even though he took them to the top. You have to expect that when the NCAA gets you, you've got ties to BYU and you speak your mind—like when he was quoted at the height of the craze how distracting it all was (he didn't exactly disrespect the fans, but came close).

Now, headed off to Provo as an assistant, Wilton will do what he wants to do, without the headaches.

“;I still get to coach.”;

Reach Star-Bulletin sports columnist Dave Reardon at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), his “;Quick Reads”; blog at starbulletin.com, and twitter.com/davereardon.