Former UH football coach Tomey dies at 80

The Maui News and The Associated Press

Former University of Hawaii head football coach Dick Tomey has died at the age of 80.

Tomey, who was also the winningest football coach in University of Arizona history, died surrounded by family Friday night in Tucson, his family said. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in December.

Tomey, who compiled a 63-46-3 record with the Rainbow Warriors from 1977-86, led UH to the school’s first ranking in The Associated Press poll, in 1981.

He spent one season as special teams coordinator at UH in 2011. He is a member of the school’s Sports Circle of Honor.

“On the football field he was a tough as nails coach, who loved fierce competition and the thrill of team building,” the Tomey family said in a statement Saturday. “He loved his players, every single one of them — always.

“He was hard on them. He constantly raised the bar. He could do that because he knew how to find the goodness and the talent in people. If he didn’t find it immediately, he kept looking until he did, and once he found goodness/talent he never lost sight of it.”

The family statement began, “To us, Dick Tomey was one of a kind. Known for his room-for-everyone big-heartedness, generous spiritedness (to a fault), instinctive kindness, love and respect for people of all walks, and the ease with which he forgave himself and others and moved on with life without resentments-taught all of us so much. Dick Tomey was never petty, never small minded. He was a man who discovered his mission in life, embraced it, enjoyed it, and accomplished amazing things. When speaking of football, he often said, ‘Football is not complicated. People are.’ He was always, first and foremost, a people person.”

During his tenure, Tomey led the Rainbow Warriors into the Western Athletic Conference in 1979. In just his second season, he nearly led UH to an upset of eventual national champion USC in the 1978 regular-season finale.

Tomey guided the Rainbow Warriors to a pair of runner-up finishes in the WAC and four seven-win-plus seasons.

According to the UH athletics website, Tomey was instrumental in scheduling big-name opponents, the likes of Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa, Michigan and South Carolina.

His 1981 squad finished the year with a 9-2 record and runner-up WAC finish. He also coached UH’s only Associated Press first-team All-American in Al Noga in 1986, his final year as Hawaii head coach.

After his head-coaching years began at UH, Tomey spent 14 years at Arizona, going 95-64 while taking the Wildcats to seven bowl games, including the Fiesta Bowl in 1993. Arizona went 12-1 in 1998 under Tomey and beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl to finish a program-best No. 4 in the AP poll.

The Polynesian Football Hall of Fame tweeted: “A true pioneer in giving Polynesian kids an opportunity to further their education through football, Coach DICK TOMEY served as Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee Chairman and recognized as a Founders Award honoree. We will miss you Coach. Aloha.”

The Arizona football Twitter feed said of Tomey: “A man of integrity and passion who impacted the lives of so many. He always put others before himself. Coach Tomey’s legacy goes far beyond the football field.”

Na Koa Football Club tweeted: “Coach not only coached our Rainbow Warriors, he continued to support the program in many ways. We will be forever grateful to Coach for making Na Koa Football Club the recipient of proceeds from several of his book signings.”

Tomey closed his career as a head coach at San Jose State before retiring in 2009 at 71. Tomey was 183-145-7 overall in 20 years as a coach.

Born in Indiana, Tomey graduated from DePauw University and got his first varsity job coaching defensive backs at Davidson in 1965 after stints coaching freshmen teams at Miami of Ohio and Northern Illinois.

Tomey spent four seasons at Kansas before following Pepper Rodgers to UCLA. He was the Bruins defensive coordinator in 1976 before being named Hawaii’s coach in 1977.

North Carolina coach Mack Brown said on Twitter that college football lost a “true legend.”

“I’ve never met a more passionate, loving man, who was also one of the best coaches to ever coach,” he said.

In 2009, Tomey was named the president of the 10,000-plus member American Football Coaches Association. More than 35 of his coaching protegees were either in the National Football League or coaching at the NCAA FBS level. Rich Ellerson (Army), Pat Hill (Fresno State), June Jones (SMU), Ron McBride (Weber State), Tom Williams (Yale) and Dino Babers (Syracuse) were head coaches at FBS programs.

Tomey is survived by his wife, Nanci; a son, Rich, and daughter Angie.

The family said a celebration of life will be announced later.