Figueroa hired as Sabers head coach

‘They got good kids there, they have the talent. It’s getting in there and starting to work. We have got to get to work.’ – Rodney Figueroa, Maui High football coach

KAHULUI — Rodney Figueroa’s high school football coaching career began on the junior varsity staff at Maui High School, serving from 1997 to 1999 under Curtis Lee.

Two decades later, the Maui Interscholastic League veteran is the Sabers’ varsity head coach.

“It was a process, they were thorough, they wanted to make sure they picked the right coach,” Figueroa said after being hired on Thursday to replace Keith Shirota, who stepped down earlier this month. “I give it up to them, to Maui High, to (principal Jamie) Yap, to (athletic director Mike) Ban, the people who were on the board. I think it was 14 candidates. To beat out 14 guys, that’s an accomplishment.”

Figueroa, the Sabers’ sixth head coach since Lee retired in 2004 with nine MIL championships in 21 seasons, spent the last two seasons on the Baldwin staff under Pohai Lee.

“It was hard to leave because (Pohai Lee) just promoted me up to the defensive coordinator’s position, and when the spot opened at Maui High me and him sat down and we talked,” Figueroa said. “I wasn’t going to put in until he gave me the OK because I respect him. He gave the OK and he said I’m ready.”

Figueroa, a 1983 Baldwin graduate, was also on Curtis Lee’s varsity staff at Maui High from 2000 to 2004, then coached under Jimmy Morimoto at Baldwin from 2005 to 2013 before returning to Maui High for the 2014 season, serving as an assistant as the Sabers won their first MIL title since 2000. Figueroa rejoined the Bears the next year.

“The guy has a lot of experience working with different people and under different systems,” Curtis Lee said. “That’s all a big plus for him. … He’s dedicated, he’s been looking for this type of job, you know, the head coach job, for a while. So, he hasn’t given up — that tells you something about his drive and determination. I think there’s a lot of upside with Rodney. We’ll see what happens, but I think he’ll surround himself with some good people. He’s easy to work with, I think he’s flexible. Like I said, a lot of upside.”

In the last 12 years, Figueroa’s teams have gone 90-8-1 in the MIL.

“We are very excited,” Ban said. “I think he will fit into our program, get it to where our program wants to go. His passion for the game, love for the kids, huge experience being defensive coordinator, position coach, we’d like to give him the opportunity to try his hand at being the head coach and we believe he will do well.”

Shirota went 11-9 in two seasons at the Maui High helm.

“They got good kids there, they have the talent,” Figueroa said. “It’s getting in there and starting to work. We have got to get to work.”

Figueroa is scheduled to meet the team today. He will talk to former Maui High assistants this weekend with the hope of assembling his staff before spring drills can begin on May 1.

“We’ll see who is still interested in coaching and being committed to the program,” Figueroa said. “We need a staff in place as soon as possible. I will be working hard this weekend, making phone calls, and meeting coaches.”

* Robert Collias is at