Congratulations and thank yous are self-explanatory, but if UH-Hilo athletic director Pat Guillen walks into a coach’s office and asks if he can offer any assistance, well, that’s a tell-tale sign as well.
Translation: Let’s pick up the pace little.
“They know that when I’m asking what do they need and what can I do to help, they know I want to get better,” Guillen said.
Luckily for most Vulcans coaches, the congratulations and thank yous were in much greater supply during the 2018-2019 school year.
UHH’s rise to sixth in the Pacific West Conference Commissioner Cup’s standings is one of Guillen’s proudest accomplishments — academic and community gains rank high his as well — and he enters the fifth year of his five-year plan feeling “right on track.”
But the leap from the bottom of the PacWest also presents Guillen with one of his biggest challenges going forward.
“People look to me for leadership, to maintain the momentum, and there definitely is momentum going on in this department,” Guillen said. “And lot of that is, and I now it’s a cliche, but when I got here I said we needed to change culture.
“My first one, one and a half years here, was changing the culture. Raising standards and increasing expectations. We’ve done that and the coaches know what to expect. They know I have high standards, and I’d like to think were rolling in the same direction. It’s my job to keep that going, it really is.”
With UHH’s fall sports season set to get into full swing, Guillen sat down with the Tribune-Herald to discuss a variety of topics in Vulcansland: the successes, facilities, basketball standards, dwindling enrollment, budget issues, volleyball departures and more.
Sixth and counting
UHH’s sixth-place finish in the Commissioner Cup was its highest in 10 years, and it was a marked improvement from the previous three years, when the Vuls finished no higher than 10th.
Men’s tennis made the school’s deepest run in the Division II era, women’s soccer, softball and baseball also finished second in the PacWest and volleyball was third, with each program flirting with postseason aspirations.
“I still think volleyball and softball got jobbed,” said Guillen, who clearly takes a hand-on approach.
It might have taken longer than he wanted, but Guillen was finally able to separate the men’s and women’s soccer coaching positions — “To have one coach oversee 80 players is impossible,” he said — and it probably wasn’t a coincidence that the women reached 10 wins for a second time in program history once Gene Okamura was able to put his full focus on just one program.
Guillen said he likes to assist with recruiting, using his contacts from years of college administration to help his coaches network. He specifically mentioned volleyball, baseball and men’s basketball.
“I played baseball for 18 years and (coach) Kallen (Miyataki) and I have a very close relationship,” Guillen said. “(We) constantly discuss recruiting.
“I like to think our talent pool in that sport has increased.”
The key, he said, is taking a macro approach with his coaches.
“For me, it’s nothing like, ‘Hey coach, go recruit these kid.’” Guillen said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, these are my friends, these are there highly successful programs, if you want to reach out to them feel free.’
“I don’t tell any of my coaches who to recruit, I just open up the networks.”
• Guillen was just as happy how Vulcans’ student-athletes performed off the field as he was on it.
Their cumulative grade point average, he said, reached an all-time high (3.1) as did the number that made the all-Academic PacWest team (90-plus).
“Sure we want to win, but we want to graduate our student-athletes first,” Guillen said. “Hiring a full-time academic advisor and opening up a learning center, study hall was huge for us.”
Average on hardwood
Noticeably absent from the list of high-finishing teams in the PacWest were the men’s and women’s basketball programs. Men’s coach GE Coleman has yet to post a winning campaign entering his seventh season, and David Kaneshiro’s women’s team is five seasons removed from its last trip to the PacWest playoffs.
Guillen expressed confidence in both.
“I have realistic goals,” he said. “Neither of these programs is fully funded, but if you do all the other stuff right, especially the community stuff, and in Hilo you have to be in the community.
“You do the community stuff, run a clean program, your kids are well-disciplined and don’t get in trouble and have good academics, it’s hard to fault somebody for that.”
The men finished 12-14 last season, vying for their first PacWest berth until the final day of the season. The women’s team, if healthy, should have a solid nucleus this season, led by junior Allie Navarette.
“Men’s basketball I think is really close, I really do,” Guillen said. “I think you are going to be pleasantly surprised in the women’s basketball team.”
He also credited Coleman and Kaneshiro with the success of the Vulcan Basketball Camp, which was under university control for the third season in July, featuring coach Jimmy Yagi.
“Coach Yagi is like a father to me, and to see the pride in his eyes, that means the world to me,” Guillen said.
Here one day, …
Gene Krieger turned the volleyball program around in two seasons and was perhaps Guillen’s proudest hire until he abruptly resigned in March, citing family concerns.
Guillen said he offered the job to a pair of in-state candidates, one of whom would have become the school’s only female head coach at the moment.
“The timing (of Krieger’s exit), in March, kind of left me in a lurch,” Guillen said.
Chris Leonard, an assistant to Krieger who is the president and general manager of New West Broadcasting Corp., was announced as the interim coach in July, and his boss considers him much more than a fall-back option.
“I mean he’s Mr. Volleyball, I don’t think I’ve met quite anybody more passionate about volleyball than Chris, honestly,” Guillen said. “I just wish he didn’t own a radio station.
“Once the season is over, maybe before, we’ll talk (about the future). I would love to see him here long term, but I’m just not sure because of his other responsibilities.
The men’s and women’s soccer teams are scheduled to play their home matches on the campus baseball field after a handful of seasons at Kamehameha’s Paiea Stadium, but Guillen expects it to be a one-year stay.
Guillen secured $4.2 million in funding to go toward a new soccer field at the multipurpose area fronting Puainako Street next to the athletic parking lot, an artificial surface for the softball field and a multipurpose building by softball field.
The multipurpose field was the former home for the soccer teams, but it will require a complete overhaul to fix drainage issues.
“Because of the design phase and the permitting and everything else, we’re probably breaking ground around March,” Guillen said. “I hope we can be on track for the 2020 season.”
The artificial turf is quicker fix, he said, and is “sorely needed” after a number of softball games had to be moved to Kailua-Kona because of drainage issues in outfield.
The multipurpose building is slated to could include, bathrooms, a concession area, storage space and possibly offices, Guillen said, and among the items on the drawing board are improvements to the gym and the tennis courts.
In 2017, the Tribune-Herald reported the school spent $99,720 to refurbish the gym floor in hopes of minimizing moisture, but the move appears to have provided little more than a cosmetic fix.
It’s all about the $
In May there was a funding scare when a cut of $300,000 to the athletic budget was proposed by state legislators.
That threat is off the table for a few years, Guillen said, but budget cuts because of dwindling enrollment remain a fear. UHH has seen the general student population decline each year since 2012, but Guillen is hopeful new chancellor Bonnie Irwin can help stem the tide.
He said the two have met numerous times already and share a similar vision of the role athletics plays at a university.
“While she started too late to make an impact for this year,” he said, “I think her leadership is going to make an impact for future years. She gets it, she understands it, and has the aces up her sleeve that will really help us.”
Plus, if you build it, they may come.
“When you are building buildings, whether they are athletic or for the school or pharmacy, the community takes note,” he said. “With high school kids, especially, if they are into athletics, it’s about facilities and amenities. Our facilities have been neglected for more than 30 years, but we are starting to make a dent in that.”
“We need to get more kids from Waiakea High School to come here, we need to get more kids form Hilo and Kamehameha,” he said.
Born and raised in California, Guillen said he enjoys engaging with the community and building bonds, and he said it would take “an incredible situation” to pry him away.
Initially on taking his post, he secured funding from former chancellor Donald Straney after telling him he the department needed it to be competitive,
Since then, Guillen said, fundraising has increased 40% since before he arrived.
“I’m really round of that,” he said. “The first couple of years I was semi fundraising, it was more about getting to know the community. I always thought the worst thing I could do was come here and ask for money. It’s all about building trust.
“There is no doubt in my mind I have that in the community.”
His fourth anniversary on the job was Aug. 24, and his contract status by and large ranges from year to year.
Guillen said he answers to the community.
“I truly believe this community deserves better and this last season I think we delivered in that,” he said. “I think this next year we are going to do even better.”