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UH's Donovan keeps his eyes on the horizon


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POSTED: Sunday, July 05, 2009

Jim Donovan, who once spent a night on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, sees similarities between navigating a naval vessel and operating a collegiate athletic department.

“;It's like steering a super tanker,”; the Hawaii athletic director said. “;You turn the wheel and it may be 10 to 15 miles down-ocean before you see it start to turn because it takes some time for something that large to respond.

“;And that's true for something as large as the athletic department.”;

In his first 16 months at the helm, Donovan faced several moments of decision with the effects perhaps years away from being fully realized.

Just this spring, Donovan adjusted the rudder on four programs with two coaching hires and two contract extensions. How he manages the department through rough economic waters in the new fiscal year may have far-reaching implications.

“;I'll be judged most effectively probably a couple of years after my tenure is done,”; Donovan said after completing his first full year in his post. “;But I'm judged every day, every week, every month, every year on all those aspects.”;

Donovan approved the recommendations of search committees in hiring Charlie Wade and Dana Takahara-Dias to lead men's volleyball and women's basketball programs struggling in the standings and at the ticket office.

Men's basketball coach Bob Nash received a one-year extension on a contract set to expire next year. His future beyond the next two years is contingent on the Rainbow Warriors winning 18 games or reaching the postseason. Baseball coach Mike Trapasso received a one-year rollover on his contract after the Rainbows' promising start ended short of the NCAA regionals.

Donovan often speaks of the dual aims of the athletic department being education and entertainment and decisions on coaching positions “;ties into both sides.”;

Academically, 93 current or former student-athletes participated in the fall or spring commencement exercises and 183 were honored for maintaining grade-point averages of 3.0 or higher. Several programs also made significant strides under the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate.

In the competitive sphere, nine UH teams earned postseason berths and two—women's volleyball and men's tennis—won Western Athletic Conference championships. The school produced five All-Americans and 29 all-conference performers in 2008-09.

The performances added up to a 66th-place showing in the annual Director's Cup standings, second among WAC schools.

“;Being a head coach today is a daunting task,”; he said. “;Your product changes 20 to 25 percent (in player turnover) every year. It's a tough thing to stay at the top with all those changes, but that's what you have to do.

“;(Those coaching decisions are) part and parcel of my tenure and part of the grade I should receive. But the next big decision is whatever's coming up next. That's just the nature of intercollegiate athletics today. You just have to stay on top of your game, and have a vision of where you want things to go.”;

The department's financial footing remains at the forefront, with close to $2.6 million projected to be added to a $5.4 million cumulative deficit.

Donovan said the main thrust in closing the deficit will be in filling the empty seats at Aloha Stadium and the Stan Sheriff Center, along with corporate sponsorships—which appear to be holding steady heading into the new season—special fundraising events and the annual gift drives.

Like many in the state, Donovan is awaiting a resolution to the issue of possible furloughs for state employees and the impact of proposed budget cuts to the university.

Donovan said the department shaved $1.3 million off its operational expenses and is looking for ways to raise revenue. He said selling the inner circle of parking at Aloha Stadium through Koa Anuenue generated $150,000 for UH and other measures that could reduce the department's game-day expenses are being discussed.

He also sees expanding the school's reach into the Pacific Rim as a long-term component to increasing the fan base.

“;I come into this job every day and there's a lot of self-put pressure because I realize how important UH athletics is to our state,”; Donovan said. “;When we are winning and things are going well, there are a lot of positive vibes around our state.”;