Shaking things up (extended version)

by Paul Honda on March 11, 2014

(The shorter version of this story was published this morning in the Star-Advertiser.)

Ask Tehani Fiatoa about coaching.

She’ll tell you it’s a labor of love. At the prep level, it’s rarely about money, at least in Hawaii. 

The girls volleyball coach also tell you what she thinks of one-year contracts. For Fiatoa, better known as Tehani Miyashiro during her playing days at the University of Hawaii, it’s not just the concept of a one-year agreement that has been in mind recently. Despite a successful season at Kahuku, she was required to re-apply for her position — an unusual situation that rarely happens at high schools. 

“I felt, in a way, unappreciated. Questioning our validity (as coaches) in a letter from the principal (Pauline Masaniai). She said she wanted to start fresh with coaches,” she said. 

Fiatoa, married with children, opted to step away rather than have to prove herself all over again. 

“I do not regret my decision. I talked to my family, my husband about it. We felt like there are other things I could be doing. I put everything into it. I tried to set up the girls in my program to get ready for college whether they play or not,” she said. 

Masaniai wasn’t happy with that outcome. 

“It’s not that I had a plan (to remove coaches), but I wanted to see who else was out there for all positions,” Masaniai said on Monday. “That wasn’t the message. I apologize to her. I haven’t had a chance to speak with her.”

Athletic Director Gillian Yamagata gave her very positive marks in the post-season evaluation.

“I got 4s and 5s from her,” Fiatoa said. “I walked out of there very satisfied. My efforts were confirmed. Then to be told to re-apply, that’s just saying, ‘You’re fired.’ ” 

(Photo illustration by Martha Hernandez / Star-Advertiser).

(Photo illustration by Martha Hernandez / Star-Advertiser).

Though it’s common for public schools to keep coaches as “casual hires” on a year-to-year basis, it’s rare that an entire athletic program’s coaches be forced to endure the entire application and interview process again. 

The notion of year-to-year service isn’t new. Tommy Lasorda managed the Los Angeles Dodgers for decades on an annual re-commitment and never left the organization. But Lasorda was paid well, commensurate with other MLB managers of his era. 

At the high school level, it’s a sacrifice of time, sweat and effort with players and parents and, sometimes, with a community that can be fickle about its coaches. The actual pay is normally barely enough to cover gasoline costs.

Masaniai brought her vision to the school when she arrived recently. The fact that she moved quickly to have fall-sport coaches re-apply led many in the community to believe that she wanted to replace football coach Reggie Torres. 

The longtime wrestling, judo and football coach — in his third decade of service to the school — did re-apply. 

“We had no idea of knowing who would apply,” Masaniai said. “We wanted to open it up and we ended up having many qualified candidates.” 

Last week, the school announced that Lee Leslie, a resident of Idaho, was hired. Leslie confirmed his hiring by returning a call to a Star-Advertiser reporter, but after the breaking news story ran, Masaniai was disappointed with the reporter. She had wanted to inform Torres, a high school classmate who was 75-14 as varsity football coach, before the report was published. 

“It takes time to contact everybody who applied,” she said. “There was a lot going on that afternoon. I wish I could’ve talked to Reggie first instead of him finding out about it (in the media).” 

The community, as well as current and former administrators across the state, had been stunned by the re-application mandate. The hiring of a new coach, especially one who is out-of-state, was perplexing to many. Torres brought a toned-down approach to Kahuku football, eschewing the more excitable elements of the program — loud T-shirts, for example — in favor of an old-school, humility-based mindset. RedRaiders4Lyfe was gone. Big Red had returned. 

Early on, he faced major criticism from some in the community at one point — a petition for his ouster circulated — even though he guided the Red Raiders to a state football title in his first season. But by the end, the three-time state champion had the support of most in the community. Kahuku’s reputation for good sportsmanship was practically written in stone. 

But Masaniai had other ideas. The outflow of some talented student-athletes from the North Shore to an elite, prestigious private school like Punahou appears to have been a driving force. In her statement on the hiring of Leslie, Masaniai penned: 

“Kahuku High is creating the whole package – academic, extracurricular, cultural, arts – so parents don’t have to look beyond their own community.”

“Only a parent can know what’s best for their child and the opportunities. I want to give them an option, that there is opportunity at Kahuku High School,” Masaniai said, going just short of mentioning Punahou. “The private schools are doing what they feel they have to do to develop their programs.” 

So Masaniai did what an ambitious principal would do. She exercised her options and used what is perhaps the most valuable tool to any administration: she altered the personnel of the existing staff. 

But what about successful coaches who are removed, so to speak?

“Coaches are casual hires. There’s no protection, like a substitute teacher,” OIA executive director Raymond Fujino said. “Technically, it’s a re-application every year, but the schools don’t have to go through that process. As an AD, it’s not easy. I don’t think they want to do this every year. Most principals delegate that responsibility to the AD. The AD recommends the name to the principal.” 

Other veteran educators shared their thoughts. 

“That’s up to the principal and AD, but normally they don’t ask for re-applying,” longtime Aiea football coach and counselor Wendell Say said. “I was shocked when I found out about Reggie. He’s a good guy and he does a good job. I know a lot of people in Kahuku are vocal, but I don’t see why he was removed.”

Say pointed to a similar situation nearly two decades ago when then-Waipahu football coach Sam Delos Reyes, one of the top coaches in the state, was not retained.

“He still wanted to coach,” Say recalled. “He was forced out at Waipahu. He wanted to form a coaches union.”

Delos Reyes is now an athletic director at Campbell. The emotions of that time have subsided.

“I wasn’t forced out. The administration wanted a new direction. We understand our contracts are year to year. Mine was not renewed,” he said. “For whatever reason why, I support that.” 

The natural progression for some is move up from coaching to administration. For others, it’s the end of the line, a fine stretch of time working for the communities they love.

“A coach like Reggie will strive for championships and his kids reach college. All new coaches strive for these goals,” Delos Reyes said. “Their mission is basically the same. It’s not unusual for change to take place.” 

He pointed out that coaches aren’t completely vulnerable. 

“If something goes wrong and we did the correct thing, the protection is that they (DOE) will go to bat for us,” Delos Reyes said. 

Still, the requirement of re-applying is a necessary evil for many new principals and athletic directors.

“It’s a tool. If you don’t have it, you don’t have control,” he said. 

It’s something that netted the Red Raiders an accomplished coach in Leslie, who understands to some extent the furor that has erupted on the North Shore. 

“It’s more of putting the AD in the driver’s seat. Nobody’s set on any long-term contract,” he said by telephone on Friday. “(Masaniai) made it clear to me that she wanted someone more on the academic side so the kids can raise their ACT scores and more of them go to college. Some of the kids have been going to private schools and the principal wants Kahuku to get caught up.” 

Using that net, however, has its costs. Fiatoa’s spirit is not the same. 

“It might be a blessing in disguise,” she said. “Unfortunately, today’s society is influenced by angry parents. The way they interact with teams and coaches is very different from when I was growing up. I see it a lot. I talk with my colleagues (at other schools). It actually prevents a lot of coaches from coaching. Who wants to deal with that?” 

In her eyes, there is a broken trust. 

“The administration is not taking care of the people who put the effort in.” 

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Mana01 March 11, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Only time will tell if these changes were indeed effective. Its nice to know that the Principal is strategizing based on keeping the talent in their hall ways rather then seeing them slip away into the hands of Punahou and the other private schools. The only problem with that is you cant compete with private schools that have money, better facilities,. Kahukus solution is not to have a personnel change but to increase their resources which can never be solved without money and donations.

boydhale March 11, 2014 at 5:05 pm

Sounds like the principal is trying to deflect the negative attention she is facing onto another entity like Punahou and the other private schools. So what I am gathering from this is that she didn’t feel like Reggie was creating an atmosphere that resembled Punahou, so she is going to go and do what it takes to create such an environment.

What this requires is changing culture but you can still have a good football team and a great school. I don’t think it was Reggie’s job that those who didn’t play football, academically qualify and succeed beyond what they were doing. His job was to create a culture of hard-working young men (and the occasional female) to play the game the right way and be a great student athlete. Not all qualified academically at college, but in this scenario, Randall Okimoto should be replaced (I’m not saying he should, just using Masaniai’s logic), and so should every other head coach who isn’t sending their players and the rest of the school to college. Mid-Pac has a great baseball team and their students do well but I don’t think it is in the same class as Iolani or Punahou. So what? There are different schools for different students and as soon as a school decides it wants to be like another school, it alienates its culture and isn’t successful at drawing the new one.

I don’t think Masaniai made this move to totally change the Kahuku culture, but since she’s taking the heat, she’s trying to deflect it onto others. She made her bed but isn’t willing to sleep in it. Coward.

Sam March 11, 2014 at 8:37 pm

Changing the head coach isn’t going to stop parents from sending their kids to Punahou and other private schools. The private schools have so much more to offer; the facilities, a college prep curriculum, the environment, the network, and the strong alumni support. Maybe they should ask the parents of the kids that left the North Shore why they chose the private school over Kahuku. I bet most would say the things I listed above. I bet none would say “the head coach at Punahou is going to help my son get to college”. Just my opinion…….

Paper Crane March 12, 2014 at 12:58 am

Auwe,…if it’s because of couple of named people to get some you supporters all verbally ballistic,…then let it out; just remember if you do not have ownership of the establishment, your chances of being replace without notice is like mentally losing sleep whereas anyone who’s not in control got there by whoever had control to put you there,..and that individual who put you there have that choice to move on too,..for whatever reasons; yep, you too can always be replaced whereas no matter what, no one individual is indispensable;…start now and start practicing to be a free agent,..bet that’s not taught in any higher learning lesson plan and that people is also called job security whereas putting food on the table for your family. So get serious,..think with an unbias mind and not with the empathy/sympathy,…like it’s not what’s best but what’s better? Mahalo RR4L

arianeprimaciodickson March 12, 2014 at 1:33 am

This is one of those, “if its not broken dont fix it” situations. If the academic culture in your school is lacking, you dont have to change the administration (personnel); you change the program. We must learn how to diagnose problems correctly in order to fix it correctly. You dont treat a symptom, you treat the cause.

Red raider March 12, 2014 at 9:37 am

Hello. If you had a child there you want the best. Coaches change lives and ruin lives based in their critism of each child. Shouldn’t a coach be willing to submit himself to “whose the best” process. it’s 2014 and we needed a principal willing to make changes. All your comments really mean “Kahuku doesn’t have advancement and progress culture and shouldn’t start. They don’t deserve the best”. I can’t believe we are so worried about adults and their feelings vs kids who need a fair chance and consideration. I choose students over adults any day. If he were for students he would want to improve himself or hug the guy that is best for the kids. So many parents and coaches don’t know how to get kids to the next level. When you won state champs and two boys have scholarships should we just that’s out culture. It’s up to the child to get in there and make it happen. Kay dressing my child up as Mogli and he can raise him damn self. No we need adults that will do all it takes especially of they know how or get out of the way for someone who does.

Nel March 12, 2014 at 11:20 am

My nephews grew up watching Kahuku football . Started pop warner moving to big boys and get ready for next year to step on the field and play for Reggie. When they found out about this they were offered to play at Punahou or St. Louis. Both of my nephews are undecided because they really looked forward to playing for Reggie.They wanted to have that experience the players have out on the field with the sea of red and coach just doing whats best. We ensure them the they Sea of red will always be 12man. T.alent is everywhere

MC March 12, 2014 at 11:40 am

The coaches at Kahuku are awesome. It’s a shame that Tehani isn’t coming back. We lost a good one there.

I know many parents who send their kids to private schools in town and it isn’t for athletics. It’s for academic reasons. Kahuku has many great teachers, but they also have a few poor teachers. They have some AP courses, but hardly any good electives. My kids go to Kahuku and have taken only 2 or 3 classes their senior years because they had completed the requirements for graduation and there were no other worthwhile electives to complete a full school day.

I agree with Sam and am seriously sending my youngest to Punahou or another private school so he can have more opportunities and college prep courses. It’s a pain to take the bus to and from, but unless Kahuku can step up the academics this will continue to be a problem.

hawaii warrior fan March 12, 2014 at 12:26 pm

you all miss the point, the HS FB HC’s job is to prepare their team to be the most competitive team within the guidelines/rules (NO recruiting like Kaiser) on the field, and to represent their school and community as best can be (remember the slogan; school pride?). At the same time the sport uses it’s leverage in terms of the player’s interest in the game, to maintain/improve their academics. The SAT scores, classes taken, academic knowledge is in the hands / responsibility of Admin who controls academic content & rigor, and the front line classroom Teachers & Counselors. Let us not confuse the two roles; Athletics vs Academics. Is it the Coaches job to make sure they qualify academically? They are going to provide an environment where it demands academic compliance (study hall, maintaining their grades, etc.) but it is the classroom Teacher who provides the academic knowledge w/the Administration that oversees the curriculum plus more importantly, the student/athletes home environment (parental academic emphasis) that provides the need.
Comparing elite private and public schools is comparing Apples w/Bananas (Principal is one). Punahou, Iolani, etc. has many advantages that public schools can never equate. Remember, public schools educate ALL and not a select upper echelon. What parent would turn down an opportunity to attend those schools for a public school? Are you NUTS! Wake up! Be happy for that kid for that golden opportunity! Would you ask Manti Teo to stay home and attend Kahuku in lieu of Punahou? or Luke Kaumatele to stay @Kapolei? It is in their best interests. The FB Coach coaches, the Teachers teach, the College Counselor enlightens the student on colleges, the Admin. manages, let us not get the roles confused.

It is not about expected job security for Coach Reggie, but when one does the job and does it well, their is an expectation that they will be allowed to finish it. It’s embarrassing to read the Principal’s excuses on not having professional courtesy in informing Coach Reggie on HER decision, long list? Reggie should have been the 1st one to be informed. Who would want to work under a boss who is insensitive, has no courtesy makes excuses, tries to cover up the public embarrassment? I wonder how Matayoshi feels about approving the selection of this Principal for Kahuku HS? If I was a Teacher at that school, I’d be looking at that transfer list to move to other schools where there is loyalty, support, integrity, respect for all.

One more thing, Sam Delos Reyes, Campbell AD who was quoted above supporting the process, sure wasn’t singing that tune when he was displaced at Waipahu back then. He was crying like a baby crying Foul. He like others, forgot where they came from, disgusting!

Coach Fiatoa, you got the right idea. I would resign too, don’t want to work and pour blood, sweat, tears, sacrifices, in an environment where there is no support, appreciation. Time to jump the ship! I wonder what kind of Ass’t Coach would want to join Leslie’s Staff for what it represents? we’ll see.

hawaii warrior fan March 12, 2014 at 12:37 pm

one more thing; the purpose of athletics to provide an experience, a positive one, and not to provide scholarships. That is a byproduct of the team experience. Those that are athletically gifted, will be recognized, college scouts aren’t blind. If one’s main purpose is to get a scholarship, they need to move to an individual sport and not play FB. Gotta be willing to sacrifice for the team to maximize success and not be concerned with looking good as an individual. Nuff said.

heyheyho March 12, 2014 at 5:12 pm

Wow, if were going to throw people under the bus… let’s tell the press how Fiatoa did not take owner ship for any damages that she’s done to these girls mentally. If you consider telling a 17 year old that she is to “big” to be on your team, or accuse a player “through a text msg” of doing drugs getting our kids prepped for college. Or lets tell everyone how she didn’t know how to use a libero or catch a rotation error all season…and see how well she prepped these kids for the next level. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of what this past season was like.

But one thing I know is that you do not throw your family under the bus in the media!!

PS this is not one of those “angry parents”

Monkey March 12, 2014 at 7:04 pm

Why change all the coaches my coach is better than normall people he’s a priest and he guides us through this but why change all of the coaches seriously this is not kahuku any more

Paper Crane March 13, 2014 at 2:46 am

Wow,..excuse me yet what a cold welcoming for coach Lee Leslie whereas anytime soon he’ll step up on the stage and speak giving his all and fairness; don’t know the guy but kinda chill out people and give Leslie equal times to talk his football, like wow before he even started to set foot on KHS campus some people are already shooting him in the foot,…now that’s not very Shaka like whereas at least have the decency to give him Red Raiders Nation support and hold the rumors, speculation, roasting and finger pointing and above all the was comparison of what our no mercy broke mouth football is all about; best wishes to coach Leslie and god bless him with welcome arms..

@heyheyho March 13, 2014 at 10:29 pm

as an outsider looking in, the topic in the news is about principal Masaniai and her less then professional handling of the athletic program. Bringing up dirty laundry about the volleyball coach has nothing to do with the fact that the principal and AD are running a muck out there leaving the locals to think twice about the integrity of their new leaders.

I agree and support any coach that will leave the program after being told to re-apply, so ridiculous.

Paper Crane March 14, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Mahalo to you all,…with happy tears for your weekend whereas remembering being replace or being indispensable;

Who’s to know that Pauline Masaniai too can be replace yet the house,..that’s Red Raiders supporters will alway prevail,..all the die hard RR4Lers will be left behind after all the smoke clears,…so who’s next?. Enjoy ppl.

OregonRedRaider87 March 17, 2014 at 6:51 am

Support the boyz, support the team, no matter what….everything else will fall into place.
RR4L C/0’87

relax March 19, 2014 at 1:36 am

Politics, Politics, Politics!!! The truth will come out one day about the Principal & AD! THEY SHOULD REAPPLY FOR THERE JOB TOO AND SEE HIW THEY WOULD FEEL!!! I’m sorry Kahuku family but this principal and AD is just gonna screw up the school! New coach in football and girls volleyball SMH!!!

Moses Galletes March 30, 2014 at 7:14 am

Change is always good if something is broken, but nothing is broken. This is not Pono! After this year the AD and principal needs to reapply, trust me. There’s no faith in our local talents for coaches, Kahuku will learn just like Kamehameha.

Disappointed September 27, 2014 at 3:11 pm

I maybe too late to even comment on this…old news already but this is just outrageous. In one fail swoop “The Pride of the North Shore” is ripped away. It bothers me the message sent to our youngsters. Isn’t it better to be courageous, honest and up front?

Disappointed September 27, 2014 at 3:22 pm

1more thing, I totally agree with the other comments on the professionalism of how this was handled. I truly hope a petition was created and just about ready to present to the school board on the leadership skills of this principal and AD.

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