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Saturday, June 17, 2000

C O L L E G E _ B A S E B A L L

College World Series

Murakami’s legacy
secure with his
peers in Omaha

By Kalani Simpson
Special to the Star-Bulletin


OMAHA, Neb. -- The man punching pukas in the meal tickets at the Rosenblatt Stadium press box wants to know: Is Les Murakami still coaching at Hawaii?

It was 20 seasons ago that the Rainbows played on the final day of the College World Series for the baseball national championship in Omaha.

Today, it's Stanford against LSU.

And yes, Murakami is still Hawaii's coach. For one more year.

After 30 years, the man who turned a small program into a national power will step down.

A legion of harsh critics that grew over the latter years got what it wanted.

But at the College World Series, baseball people aren't buying the criticism.

"Les is one one of the top college coaches we've ever had," said Dave Keilitz, retired coach at Central Michigan and current executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association.

The ABCA inducted Murakami into its Hall of Fame this January.

"I've known Les since 1980, said Florida State skipper Mike Martin. "I have always been so impressed with the way he treats people. He is a very special guy."

Keilitz said it's not unusual for legendary coaches to receive criticism when expectant fans adopt "what have you done for me lately" mentalities.

When a program doesn't recapture its past glory, a lot of times fans forget what certain people did to make it great.

Murakami's problem wasn't that people forgot. It was that they remembered. And pretty soon, good just wasn't good enough any more.

"Les may have created his own monster," Keilitz said. "Because he made that program."

An appearance in the CWS championship game. Six 50-win seasons and two 60-win campaigns. Six WAC conference titles. And a gleaming jewel known as Rainbow Stadium.

"He really showed people what can be done in a program," Martin said. "And in raising money and building one of the best facilities."

Rainbow Stadium is still there. Murakami is still there. But the WAC championships and CWS trips aren't.

Texas coach Augie Garrido knows about the weight of such expectations.

Garrido's three CWS championships with Cal State-Fullerton should have erased all doubt. But when Garrido's recent teams had disappointing campaigns, fans murmured audibly that perhaps he no longer knew the sport well enough to coach their beloved Longhorns.

But Garrido found the best way to deflect the criticism this year when his Texas team qualified for the College World Series.

The sports landscape is changing. In the past, a few select schools, including Hawaii, would duke it out for CWS spots.

Now, there is competition from everywhere. Anyone, and everyone, can beat you.

The rules are different, but at the power schools, fan expectations stay the same.

"Recruiting has become more national," Keilitz said. "And Hawaii has become recognized as an excellent talent pool. A lot of programs now are after kids there. It doesn't mean Les is doing any less of a job."

It means he has a lot more competition from big-time colleges.

Where have you gone, Derek Tatsuno?

Justin Wayne has gone to Stanford. Shane Komine has gone to Nebraska. Keoni DeRenne has gone to Arizona, Dane Sardinha to Pepperdine. And on, and on.

Keilitz and Martin both said that Murakami's record of taking a lower baseball school to the ranks of the big boys had been held up as the model and widely copied in the coaching fraternity.

"He had nothing," Keilitz said. "And made them a national power."

Now, everybody's doing it.

Next year, the last year, is for fun, the UH coach has said. His legacy is secure, especially to his peers in Omaha.

"All that is good in college baseball is Les Murakami," said Martin.

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