Kalani Simpson


By Kalani Simpson

Frazier is so lucky,
he must be good

WOW, this guy got lucky. Lucky. Not a word usually associated with those left to sizzle in the frying pan that is the position of athletics director at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. "Brave," maybe. A few comedians might even throw in the words "foolish" or "masochistic". But "lucky"?

You better believe it. It's not often you find a guy jumping out of a burning building and hire him to install your smoke detectors.

For Herman Frazier, even if he is as good a man and administrator as his proponents will say he is -- it is widely believed that he will be offered the job of AD at UH and take it, if he hasn't already -- this is the second chance of a lifetime.

If he hasn't been tainted by the catastrophe that was his first tenure as an athletic director, at Alabama-Birmingham -- a multi-million dollar deficit, a shocking student-athlete sexual harassment scandal that echoed nationally (the alleged offenses took place before he took over), trustees undercutting him by hiring a senior associate he didn't want, trustees threatening to do away with UAB athletics altogether -- he's very good or very lucky. Probably both. Emphasis on the latter.

If a coach had a couple of seasons like this (insert your own Fred vonAppen joke here) he'd be relegated to assistanthood for life. Frazier jumps out of the burning building and into a fresh start here. Houdini wasn't this good. Lottery winners aren't this lucky.

But now UH will have to explain Frazier's luck, back it up with his ability, and that might be a tough sell to some. Frazier got impeccable reviews as the Jim Donovan of Arizona State. His resume before UAB is flawless. But the mess he's leaving behind at UAB is both public and staggering. And in a hire that attracts a lot of scrutiny, a couple of popular local candidates got left out in the cold.

Dick Tomey was a sure thing in public perception, if not in administrative credentials, and he had a lot of big backers. Donovan was the loyal soldier, the capable No. 2 who could have done the head job just fine -- but in an administration of "new thinking" his selection would have signaled more of the status quo. Still, the man knows how to cultivate constituencies, and today, his public isn't happy.

Frazier has to make a good impression, and he has to do it quickly.

But that was what did him in in Alabama. He didn't.

In the (capital S) South, athletics directors are public figures, personalities, glad-handing good ol' boys, life-size characters ready to lead the charge. People kept waiting to see that in Frazier, but he stayed in his office and said nothing, preferring to remain behind the scenes. It was his style, but when trouble mounted, it undid him.

"He's a session musician, not a front man," a recent Birmingham News column said. And that was the problem. But it was probably a prerequisite for the job here. The position of front man is already filled quite nicely by swashbuckling president Evan Dobelle.

(Oh, and June Jones ... and Riley Wallace will occasionally elbow his way to the head of the table ... and on ... and on.)

In Alabama he was too humble, a trait that might help Frazier here.

A hard worker with a good pedigree who does his job and doesn't steal too much of the spotlight probably fits the bill perfectly. The search firm couldn't have found a better match.

Or a more controversial one.

But I believe Frazier really is as good as they'll tell us he is. He must be. With this kind of baggage, he has to be. His first outing as an athletics director was a disaster. He was one step ahead of the posse, and they took him anyway, and all the heat this pick brings. He must be good. In his second chance, in his fresh start, he has to be good.

The buzzwords came out with this search. The people said they wanted to see "vision." Well, this search had "vision." It had X-ray vision. UH saw through Frazier's troubles and saw the good in him. He's very, very lucky for that.

Kalani Simpson can be reached at

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