Star-Bulletin Sports

Current University of Hawaii athletics director Hugh Yoshida, left, greeted Herman Frazier after a press conference at UH yesterday officially announcing Frazier as Yoshida's successor. President Evan Dobelle says he expects Frazier to take UH athletics to another level.

Frazier faces

The University of Hawaii's
new athletics director talks about
lofty goals as he makes his debut

By Dave Reardon

University of Hawaii President Evan Dobelle introduced his new athletics director, Herman Frazier, as a "true American hero" yesterday.

The word "hero" was supposedly redefined last Sept. 11. But in 1976, Frazier was part of a United States team that beat the rest of the world in the 4x400 relay. And in those simpler times Olympians were, indeed, heroes. Especially winning Olympians.

University of Hawaii

"We sought the best and came back with the gold," said UH Manoa interim Chancellor Deane Neubauer, a key figure in the search for the retiring Hugh Yoshida's replacement.

Now the big question is if the gold medalist can come back with the green. That would make him a hero by any definition among UH sports fans.

Frazier spoke yesterday of national championships, football Top 25 rankings, creating an international presence and graduating student-athletes -- things Dobelle has talked about since becoming president last year.

If the department is to attain the lofty goals, it's going to take more money. It's going to take more just to pay Frazier's salary, which will be $210,000 per year for three years -- about $80,000 more than what Yoshida (whose contract ends in December) is getting.

"More power to him," Yoshida said. "Right place, right time."

But can Frazier raise the $3-4 million that, just for starters, he said the program needs to start its climb toward the top? UH anticipates a $1 million deficit from the just completed year.

"If you put me in the right room with the right people I might be able to get the cash," Frazier said with a laugh yesterday.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham, from which Frazier resigned as athletics director Thursday, was not the right room with the right people.

The Blazers are the third most popular college sports program in their own city (behind Alabama and Auburn). The facts that Frazier is black and that he had to deal with what some in Birmingham call an overbearing board of trustees made his job more difficult.

In Hawaii, where everyone's a minority, the only race most people will care about is the one Frazier won in Montreal.

But it was still unclear after yesterday if Frazier -- a self-described workaholic with no hobbies -- is more bean counter or backslapper.

In his quiet and behind-the-scenes way, Yoshida was the latter. He knew his way around the Legislature. He knew whom to invite to golf tournaments. He knew whom to spend time with in the hospitality rooms.

Yoshida said he's willing to share what he can with the new guy.

"As an athletic administrator in a day-to-day sense he has a lot of experience and knows how to deal with things," Yoshida said of Frazier, who worked in the athletics department of his alma mater, Arizona State, for 23 years. "The area I'll be able to help him in will be broadening his community base."

Herman Frazier said at yesterday's press conference that he is up to the task of meeting the department's financial goals. Behind him was UH interim Chancellor Deane Neubauer, who was key in Frazier's hiring.

But ultimately, it's up to Frazier.

He's universally described as a nice guy, and that's the first step here.

Dobelle says Frazier's also a tough guy. He cited two very different experiences: running in the Olympics and running the UAB athletics department.

"A person who is representing his country when he is 19 or 20 years old is very likely going to be able to deal with pressure," Dobelle said. And then of Frazier in Birmingham: "I consider that his baptism of fire. I think he took the wrong job at the wrong time."

Many called it a defensive press conference, as -- before he could be asked -- Frazier addressed UAB's $7.5 million deficit and pending $80 million sexual-harassment lawsuit and his other perceived negatives.

He said what his supporters in Birmingham have been saying all week -- that the problems were inherited.

AN INSULATED, secretive selection process left supporters of local candidates Dick Tomey and Jim Donovan -- as well as some of the committee members -- feeling way less than satisfied.

But both the former UH football coach and current associate athletics director had nothing but good things to say about Frazier yesterday, if not the process by which he was hired.

"I tried to call him to congratulate him a few minutes ago. Our relationship has always been warm and cordial," said Tomey, who also coached football at ASU's rival, Arizona. "Obviously I'm disappointed that I didn't have a chance to interview before the committee, but I think Herman's a good man. I've known him a long time."

Tomey plans to continue to work in broadcasting and will do motivational speaking and corporate consulting. He also hasn't given up on the idea of coaching again.

Donovan was one of the first people Frazier met with after yesterday's news conference and reception.

"I think it's up to Jim," said Frazier, when asked if he would retain Donovan.

Some assumed a new athletics director from outside would sweep lower campus without a second thought, and with Dobelle handing him the broom.

That doesn't seem the case, at least right away, with Frazier (although it must be remembered that at UAB he fired basketball coach Murray Bartow, the son of his predecessor and UAB legend, Gene Bartow).

"It definitely seems like in regards to staff he is going to give people every opportunity to succeed," Donovan said. "I think that's a great management approach and will go over well."

UH Athletics

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