Tomey ready to
start rebuilding
San Jose State

The Spartans haven't had a
winning season since 2000, but
the new coach has brought hope

RENO, Nev. » Kinji Green looks at recent history, and he believes.

"When we see Tulsa two years ago, and UTEP last year, the complete turnarounds they made, Coach Tomey gives us the hope we can do that," says Green, a senior defensive tackle at San Jose State.

Dick Tomey looks at comparably ancient history, and he, too, believes.

"It's not dissimilar to Hawaii when I started there. People are so used to things being down, that's all they want to talk about. I prefer to talk about how to make it better and why we're so optimistic."

The two spoke last night at the Reno Hilton, as the Western Athletic Conference kicked off its Football Media Days.

On the surface, there doesn't seem to be much for Tomey, the new San Jose State and former Hawaii and Arizona head coach, to be upbeat about. Tomey, 67, who was also an assistant at UCLA, with the San Francisco 49ers, and most recently, at Texas, takes over a team that went 2-9 last year and hasn't had a winning season since 2000. Also, attendance has been among the worst in NCAA Division I-A, and there was talk of the program being disbanded in recent years.

June Jones at Hawaii, Steve Kragthorpe at Tulsa and, last season, Mike Price at UTEP, took floundering football teams and turned them into winners. Spartans players think Tomey can do the same thing.

Senior wide receiver Rufus Skillern was around when Fitz Hill started his four-year coaching tenure. At the time, the same things were being said, that Hill could lead San Jose State to success.

It didn't happen. San Jose State was 14-33 under Hill.

Why will it be different this time?

Skillern said it's a matter of personality. Hill, a former Army officer, was too militaristic for some of the players, he said. Although Tomey in some ways has the bearing of a general, Skillern said he is approachable.

"He's someone you can talk to, not just on the football field," Skillern said of Tomey. "Like a close adult relative.

"I put out the APB when I heard he was our coach, talked to friends who knew of him. All of them had good things to say," Skillern added. "One thing is he lets his assistants do their job. Coach Hill wasn't always like that."

Green said Tomey brought instant credibility, but he didn't hard-sell it to the players.

"It was time for a change. Coach Hill cared very much about us, especially as people, but things just didn't work out. The biggest thing (about Tomey) is his attitude with the whole team," Green said. "And his previous track record. I remember the 'Desert Swarm' (defense at Arizona)."

Tomey built great defenses at Arizona and Hawaii, and he is the winningest head coach at both schools, with 63 victories at UH and 95 at UA. His teams didn't always win the big games, but they were consistently good. At this point, they'll settle for that at San Jose State.

One of the biggest problems is drawing interest from Bay Area sports fans. An upper-echelon Pac-10 football program, Cal, is right up the road, as is Stanford. The 49ers and Raiders are both down, but remain popular. And there are two Major League Baseball teams.

"The fact that we've been down in attendance is well-documented," Tomey said. "We'll see how it is at the end of the season. But the response I've been feeling so far is excellent. I think people can feel the energy from the players, the coaches, people at the university. We have a strong team in Don Kessing and Tom Bowen. They make the strongest team of president and athletic director that I've ever been part of as a coach, period. They're dynamic, and they want to succeed."

Tomey said he has made around 75 public speeches in the Bay Area since taking the job Dec. 29.

"I'm a ham," Tomey said, laughing. "I enjoy talking about something when I'm passionate about it. And I'm passionate about these guys, our situation, and the possibility of us having a great football program."

Fresno State coach Pat Hill, who was an assistant under him at Arizona, said Tomey can do it.

"His strengths include team-building. All coaches know the Xs and Os. The difference is motivational things, that's what it boils down to. I think you'll see that at San Jose State. He'll get his team to believe and really play hard," Hill said. "One of the greatest things I got from Dick was a lot of my concepts on team-building. Everything is predicated on team goals, not offense and defense separately. But winning as one team, winning all clock situations, winning the penalty battle, all the situations in a football game -- as one team. So often teams are divided offense and defense. Dick talked a lot about combining all of it."

Tomey hasn't found a house in San Jose yet for him and his wife.

"We're in temporary quarters. The housing situation in San Jose is much like Hawaii," he said.

But judging from the players' comments, Dick Tomey already has a home.

"Obviously, gaining acceptance of the players is important," Tomey said. "You have to earn their respect. Just because you've got a hat and a whistle doesn't mean you get their respect."

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