In 1989, Wendell Look was a defensive line coach at his alma mater, ‘Iolani.
He was also the defensive coordinator, coaching the likes of Rod York, who went on to play for Hawaii before embracing a new life as a coach at Mililani. Look became ‘Iolani’s head coach in ’91. But in ’89, he and wife Linda sent an entry to the Honolulu Advertiser’s weekly Pigskin Picks. One weekend, their entry was the lone, perfect, 15-0 winner. That included the right pick on the only prep game on the list. The Looks predicted a win by Pac-Five over Kamehameha. The Wolfpack won that game, 12-6.
Technically, Linda’s name was on the picks. It was Wendell, the football fanatic, who made the picks.
“I got lucky, I guess,” Look recalls now. “I wish I could do that now when I’m in Vegas.”
The prize: $300. That came in handy for the couple, both physical education teachers at ‘Iolani.
“I think we donated half and used the other half,” he said.
Look’s penchant for all things football, making the right choices, and sticking by ‘Iolani’s “One Team” principles have proven to be timeless. Now in his 29th season as head coach, Look is on the verge of a rare milestone. A 34-24 win over Kaimuki nearly two weeks ago pushed his win total to 199. ‘Iolani has a chance to give their longtime coach No. 200 when they visit Kailua on Friday.
HPW chatted with some of Look’s peers, as well as one who played for Look, then a defensive line coach.
> Rod York, Mililani (90-24):
“Coach Look takes his coaches to learn from colleges. For example, the offensive staff went to Missouri and defensive staff went to Oregon State several years ago. Last year, they all went to Texas in the offseason. He helped ‘Iolani hire a strength coordinator for their athletic program for all sports. He and (trainer Charley) Gima helped provide ‘Iolani with top of the line care with the ARPwave machine and get game ready. New technology that helps kids heal faster.”
“ ‘Iolani wins with 170-pound linemen on both sides. These are all things that Coach Look has done to help make ‘Iolani a winning program that other schools do not do,” York added. “Coach Look is devoted to ‘Iolani because he is an alumnus, grew up through the “One Team” philosophy, became a teacher at ‘Iolani and is now an athletic director. He cares about the kids and the program. You don’t win that many games without being a great communicator and being able to work with different people and getting them on the same page. He is the ultimate players coach. Kids want to play for him and win. It’s more than just football for Coach Look. It also says a lot about his kids and coaches, and all the behind-the-scenes people who support his program.”
> Abu Ma‘afala, Kamehameha (12-19)
“Coach walks his talk when it comes to the “One Team” concept. It’s not about him, or a player, or a coach. You see that in his staff, who are still loyal and still around after all these years. You see it in the teams he’s been able to produce that are all-in to the “One Team” mantra, to their ability to adjust every year to the players that make up his roster. He’s a humble guy who is there for the kids. I’m excited to see him go for No. 200.”
> Kale Ane, Punahou (149-65)
“I think the purpose of coaching for him, there’s a lot of reasons why he coaches. The number of wins is nice, everybody says, and justifies other people’s opinions, but for Wendell and most coaches who have been around awhile, you have to have been around awhile, and it’s fun. You enjoy being around people, watching kids grow up. When they get older and they come back and understand and grasp what you were saying. There’s nobody better than Wendell doing what he’s done all these years. That number of wins is super impressive, but it’s a very small part of why he coaches, and what makes him feel proud. There’s so many great things about coaching, and the number of wins is in there somewhere, but it’s certainly not at the top.
“The first word I want to say, it’s irritating to coach against ‘Iolani because they’re so well prepared and disciplined. You really have to do as much as you can in four or five days to get ready. They’re going to do whatever they can to win. Doesn’t matter if it’s a big school or small school they play, he’s going to have them ready to go.”
> Eddie Klaneski, Damien (43-40)
“Obviously, it’s a great milestone for Coach Wendell and his program. Of course, coaches aren’t necessarily superstitious, but if someone talks about it you have no choice but to think about it. I’m sure he would rather not have that attention while they’re trying to prepare of the game that’s in front of them no matter who it is. It’s probably going to throw a little wrench in his thing. Ever since I came (to Damien) we’ve always battled. I’ve always had great respect for him. Not many coaches are able to get that many wins in a career. I wish them the best of luck.”
> Fred Salanoa, Radford (81-55)
I don’t see Coach Look as someone in it for wins. He’s competitive, cerebral, and he teaches the men of ‘Iolani the right way to play football. At the end of the day, that’s what hard work is about, all the traits he learned from Coach (Eddie) Hamada. He is continuing the legacy.
“The kinds of kids he has are not (college) D-I prospects. They’re smaller guys. He gets them to execute and play at a high level no matter what size they are. The amazing thing is he gets those guys to believe in themselves. If you know anything about football and Hawaii you know ‘Iolani doesn’t have the biggest guys, but they’re always in position to win a game. You need the coaching to make it happen and that is who Wendell is. I don’t know if anyone has played his teams in a championship situation as much as we have.
“Those are the things that I think about Wendell. I don’t think about the championships. It’s the type of guy he must be to get these kids to play at the highest level against guys that are two to three times bigger. And faster. It’s not just kids at a high academic school, being brainiacs. They do other sports and he gets them late. They play baseball. That’s the enjoyment I get when I think of Wendell. Finding innovative ways to compete.”
Archive photos courtesy of Jerry Campany.