SJSU tried in vain to win 1 for Tomey


POSTED: Sunday, November 22, 2009

SAN JOSE, Calif. » Before yesterday's game with Hawaii, one of the San Jose State players told coach Dick Tomey that the team needed to win the game for him.

“;No,”; Tomey responded. “;You need to win this for all of us. Together.”;

Who expected Tomey to be any other way? Less than a week after announcing his retirement from coaching, effective at the end of the season, Tomey led his team onto the field the only way he knows how—quietly, with the focus on the players, preaching team unity above personal glory.

The Spartans fought gamely, taking the Warriors to overtime, before falling 17-10.

Tomey did his best all week to make this just another game. His players tried to make it something special. After all, the opponent was Hawaii—appropriate, considering Tomey started his head coaching career there, leading UH into the WAC and remaining with the Rainbows from 1977 to 1986, when he left for Arizona.

The postgame handshakes turned into a series of hugs for the 71-year-old coach.

“;I have so many connections there,”; Tomey said. “;Probably people make too much of that.”;

Then, a slight pause.

“;It's all true,”; he acknowledged.

The game was classic Tomey, with the undermanned Spartans (1-9, 0-6 Western Athletic Conference) believing in themselves and nearly pulling off the upset. Injuries have decimated San Jose State's defensive line this year, yet the unit still came up with several big plays. The Spartans stopped the Warriors (5-6, 3-5) on fourth down twice inside the 25 in the first half. That was the difference between staying close and falling into a big hole.

Tomey was his usual self on the sidelines. Sporting a Bill Belichick-style hoodie on a cold night (thankfully, he refrained from cutting the arms off), he was calm the entire game, never ranting and raving.

Putting the focus on the team instead of himself was even more important this week. San Jose State was already enduring a tortuous season before Tomey's announcement. The last thing the coach wanted was for the uncertainty created by his retirement to make things worse.

“;I really appreciate our coaching staff and our players because this has been a very, very difficult week for everybody,”; Tomey said. “;Uncertainty is sometimes the most difficult thing. These guys are just extraordinary people.”;

That's what instills the loyalty Tomey gets from his players. Which leads to them wanting to do something for their coach.

“;We tried to make it about him at the beginning,”; said backup quarterback Kyle Reed, who came off the bench to spark the Spartans offense. “;But he said this isn't about him. It's about us as a team, about the seniors, about the coaching staff.

“;He wanted us to do it for each other.”;

They almost did. Reed replaced starter Jordan La Secla after two series—both of which ended on interceptions. It was the first significant playing time for Reed since the season opener against USC. On Saturday, Reed completed 14 of 22 passes for 131 yards with an interception. He also scored a touchdown on a 2-yard run.

At the risk of offending Tomey, it was a shrewd coaching decision that almost won the game.

But it didn't. And Tomey, for all his pride in how his players played, doesn't believe in moral victories. With just two games left in his coaching career, he desperately wants to earn a real, concrete victory.

“;As I told our team, we've got two weeks left together and we're going to do everything we can to give them a chance to celebrate before this is over,”; Tomey said.

A chance for everybody to celebrate. Together.