Lee Leslie will return to Kahuku to coach football for a second season.
Leslie, who spent the holidays with his family in Idaho, is flying back to Hawaii on Sunday to resume his job as a seventh-grade character education teacher and gear up for the Red Raiders’ 2015 season next fall.
Head coaching contracts at Kahuku are renewed every year, like they are at every high school under the Hawaii Department of Education, and Leslie said he and the Kahuku administration are in the process of officially renewing it.
In one way, it was a tough decision for Leslie. In another way, it was easy.
The biggest drawback of his return is the fact that his family — wife Jill, four grown children and six grandchildren who all live in the same Idaho community — are all on the mainland.
“The last seven months have been the toughest in my life,” Leslie said, referring only to the fact that he is not with his family. “We are really close and we all sat down and voted on it all the same way — for me to come back. I am committed to the (Kahuku) kids. I love ’em and I love the coaches and I want to finish my commitment to them.”
Leslie said part of the overall plan was for his wife and some of his children to move to Hawaii, but so far they have not been able to pull it off.
Nearly all of Leslie’s experiences as the Kahuku coach have been positive, especially his bond with the players and the help, generosity and overall support he’s received from the North Shore community.
“My main endeavor is in building up the kids, help them learn new things,” the coach said. “Inspire them to open new doors, teach them the intellectual side of football, and for two hours on game nights make them feel like they are the most important people on the planet.
“For an outsider coming in (last year), I thought it was amazing how everybody jumped on board, helping out off the field, cultivating the field, creating an amazing atmosphere with flags flying and looking so neat. It was a huge amount of help for a brand-new haole.”
Leslie, who is in his 24th year of teaching, will be coaching his 31st year of football in the fall. Among his many accomplishments, he coached Bishop Kelly to a 12-0 record and the Idaho state title in 2010.
Last fall, Kahuku finished 9-3. The three losses were by a total of 17 points, including a 13-10 defeat to Punahou in the state semifinals.
Despite an inconsistent offense, the Red Raiders boasted what many considered the best defense in the state.
As a team, Kahuku weathered a 20-19 midseason loss to Kaiser and came back from a 10-0 deficit in the state tournament opener to beat Hilo.
“That Kaiser game is a game we shouldn’t have lost,” recalled Leslie. “But it is what it is. There’s always going to be haters and people pointing the finger at you after you lose. We learned that we had each other’s backs no matter what, whether we win or lose.”
Leslie will be working on perfecting a complicated, up-tempo offense that he ran in Idaho but did not have enough time to install last season.
“We made the decision to play smashmouth football and hold on with our defense,” he said. “We thought it was smarter to load our defense.”
There is one moment from last season that Leslie regrets — when he ripped into his players at halftime of the state first-round 20-10 win over Hilo — but it turned into something positive (a win) anyway.
“I just did not want to see what their faces looked like the next day if they lost that game,” Leslie said. “I did not want to see that. That’s why I did it. I regret it because that’s not (usually) the way I coach.”