New Moanalua hire Vince Nihipali raring to go in first head coaching gig

Vince Nihipali signaled to his team during his days as the Campbell defensive coordinator. Nihipali is the new Moanalua head coach. Photo courtesy of Vince Nihipali.

Vince Nihipali didn’t see a ton of Moanalua football last year, but what he saw impressed him.

Nihipali, 47, will get a much closer look at Na Mehehune now that he is their new head football coach.

“It’s pretty big for me,” Nihipali, who was a defensive coordinator for Mililani and Campbell, said by cellphone Tuesday afternoon. “I’ve coached all these years, basically doing defense. I did it for so long, I always wondered if I could go out and do my own thing as a head coach and see how it works. My friends have asked often if I ever wanted to try being a head coach.”

Nihipali said he applied for the Campbell job last year and was one of two finalists along with Darren Johnson, the incumbent coach, who was rehired by incoming athletic director Rory Pico.

This time, Nihipali was the pick by Moanalua AD Joel Kawachi to succeed Savaii Eselu, who is now a San Diego State assistant coaching tight ends.

“I met with the kids today and that was pretty cool,” Nihipali said. “It was a pretty good turnout and the kids look enthusiastic and ready to go. It will be a challenge getting started, getting out there to let them see who you are and trying to build a staff. I’ve been making calls and seeing who’s available. They (Na Menehune coaches) did a great job the last two years. It’s a great program. I will see which coaches from the previous staff might be interested and I’m doing my homework. My phone is (already) dead.”

Nihipali doesn’t expect to have a problem overseeing the whole team, rather than just part of it like a DC does.

“The kids aren’t the same size as they are at places like Mililani and Kahuku,” he said. “I’m not going to come in and reinvent the wheel. It’s not broken. I want to build on what they built. They throw the ball more. Perhaps I can help them elevate their game more. Put my spin on it.

“We had a lot of success at Mililani,” Nihipali said. “The defense was doing well. It was awesome that (head coach) Rod (York) allowed me to come back for my third year (as defensive coordinator). We had a fantastic defensive year — one of the more rewarding years I’ve had. We had some dudes.”

Before coming to the Trojans for the 2017 season, Nihipali was the DC for Amosa Amosa at Campbell before Johnson got there.

Getting all the Moanalua players to mesh will be at the top of Nihipali’s list.

“You can have the best players in the world and it won’t mean anything unless they believe in a vision,” he said. “You can have grand ideas, but the main thing is to simplify it to the point where the players know what you want.”

In his third year at Mililani, the players were sophisticated enough to know seven coverages and 18 blitz combinations that Nihipali put into the package for a state semifinal game against eventual champion Saint Louis, according to the coach.

“I got some good feedback from Ron Lee (who will be taking over for brother Cal Lee as head coach this fall but who was the Crusaders’ offensive coordinator last season) after that game,” Nihipali said. “He said they had a hard time figuring out what we were doing. I was recruited to play in college by Ron Lee. Anything he says to me, I treat that as gold.”

In a bit of a stray from the main cellphone conversation, Nihipali was asked about the Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill bomb that allowed the Kansas City Chiefs to begin their comeback to beat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 54.

“The receiver did a great job, holding that free safety long enough to where there was a disconnect in communication between the safety and the corner,” he said. “From the back angle, you see it was a great throw. He (Mahomes) had a guy right there in his face.

“I can sit and talk defense all day.”

Nihipali was an inside linebacker for Kamehameha, graduating in 1990. He then played at Oregon Tech and, after that school dropped football, at Western Oregon. He stopped playing after the first hit in summer camp before his senior year.

“I had done a lot of rehab (from a previous neck injury), doing lots of training and all it took was one shot to the neck in a simple tackling drill,” he said.

While waiting for the OIA Open Division championship game to start last season, Nihipali watched Moanalua win the league D-I title, 21-20, over Leilehua in double overtime.

“Division I, it’s good football,” Nihipali said. “The competition is always going to be good, no matter where you go. That game, Moanalua vs. Leilehua, was fantastic football. There’s a lot of good coaching in the division.”

Here’s what Nihipali thought of the Moanalua boys when they played Mililani in 7-on-7 drills the week the Trojans were preparing to play Saint Louis:

“I saw a group of kids on that side who had grit, passion and were running around having fun and competing,” he said. “My defense was huge compared to them. But they were going at it. They gave it their all, and after about 100 reps and two hours, they shook hands.

“It’s going to be a great challenge for me to coach them and I’m looking forward to it. This was a shot for me to pursue something. I’m excited and we’ll see how it goes. And I’m going to miss those kids at Mililani.”

Moanalua went 10-2 last season en route to its first OIA D-I title. Na Menehune lost to eventual finalist ‘Iolani in the state tournament.


  1. Big Blue parent March 10, 2020 9:39 pm

    Bradda was this article supposed to be about the Lake or Milz? Enough, he talks about kids buying into a vision, but he neva tell us what his vision is. Yeah OK, he telling us multiple times we get smaller players, we get it, what you going to do to utilize our players? Not a good sign when he keeps comparing our guys to Trojans and Kahuku and as if Div 1 is just OK football. Talking himself up about confusing St Louis offense, lol, so what? you bringing your Trojan Def players with you to da lake? Bradda, you not in Millville no more. Tell us, what about our defense? “This is a shot… Let’s see how it goes.. ” not what we want to hear, let’s see how it goes? this is not a vision, if da coach not confident in his ability, how are we going to be confident in him? What about our kids? . Boy, can tell he was neva one head coach. This going to be interesting. Good luck.

  2. Makoa March 11, 2020 2:27 am

    One of the biggest problems with sports are the know-it-alls in the stands who think they can do a better job of coaching than the coaches. This is probably most evident at the high school level.

    Relax…it’s the OIA, not the NFL.

  3. Fakamadatthesecoaches March 11, 2020 6:12 am

    All these coaches try and build there stats up but what about the kids are u setting them up for the future 🤦‍♀️ That’s why I can’t coach in Hawaii it’s not about u and your success you’re success comes from where the kids end up in life’s

  4. Chill out March 11, 2020 6:53 am

    He just met your players. He doesn’t know what you have. You already made this comment on the last thread. He can only go by what he’s done in the past so far. That’s what got him the job. If you can do better, you should have applied. Or maybe you did and neva get the job…..

  5. One day at a time March 11, 2020 8:00 am

    …And the rebuild begins, finally. Let’s get this started!! Players need to CONTROL what YOU can CONTROL…Hit the gym, run your @$$ off, and get ready to grind!! TRUST It’ll come together.

  6. ILoveHawaii March 11, 2020 10:13 am

    Maybe you should question what you can do to support the program and Coach Vince.

    Parent drama seem to be a consistent problem over at Moanalua for multiple sports.

    Like an ugly dude saying, “I choose to be single”. Sure, thats why you cant coach.

  7. ILoveHawaii March 11, 2020 12:57 pm

    I must add. And its good for discussion.

    What is a coach responsible for doing besides coaching a player and being professional as he goes about it??

  8. RealTalk808 March 11, 2020 2:46 pm

    Talent is a big thing, but without discipline or hard work, it don’t mean jack. Give me under size kids who’s hungry and gonna give you 100% than a talented diva. Watching Moanalua these past season I saw these average size kids hold their own against bigger and talented players. Hopefully you can keep that going coach Nihipali.

  9. Millzz March 11, 2020 9:22 pm

    Moanalua has so much talent and heart. Excited for these kids. Looking forward to what they bring next couple years. Congrats to Coach Vinny

  10. really March 12, 2020 7:34 am

    So much talent? If that was true they would be in the Open Division playing the big boys. I’d say they have average talent and the same amount of heart that most teams have.

  11. ILoveHawaii March 12, 2020 11:06 am

    Maybe talent, but lack size and depth, perhaps?

    Btw, the NFL is full of Divas.

    I take the Divas and find ways to manage em.
    Hard to win when you have untalented, undersized though disciplined and hustle 100%.

    Btw, how come Leilehua went to Open and not Mene’s?

  12. Deborah Kim-Ito March 12, 2020 11:46 am

    It’s really sad that without giving him a chance he is being put down. He is a great coach and he truly cares about his players! Go Coach Vince!

  13. nalohitman March 12, 2020 12:38 pm

    Congrats Coach Vin.

  14. millzz March 13, 2020 1:27 pm

    Triggered much?
    They never win their OIA division on accident. Yes they not open division but they have talent. You have talent at every level. With that train of thought you must be one of those that think D1/D2 don’t matter. They do matter and they produce talent as well. My son played in college with kids from pearl city and Moanalua & my kids played for open. No I don’t think a lot of the d1 schools could beat many of the open schools even some of the weaker ones but they still produce talent. And I didn’t say they had more heart then everybody just that they had a lot of it.

  15. really March 14, 2020 4:54 am


    So what you are saying is they have talent, but they are playing in the second tier division? Well I guess everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

    I do think D1/D2 matters, but comparatively speaking, if they have talent, they would play in the OPEN.

    Let’s be more specific. They have talent when talking about the D1 level.

    But, they don’t have enough talent to play in the OPEN. If they did, they would be there. And let’s be honest. If they were really so talented, why no D1 titles?

    Moanalua is okay. But let’s be real. It’s not like they are a powerhouse football team.

    And even schools like Waialua, who are typically near the bottom, has some talent. Just not too much.

    Saying a team has talent is really a blanket statement.

    I stand by my earlier comment that Moanalua isn’t overly talented. My evidence is supported by being unable to win D1 and not entering the Open division.

  16. WTH March 14, 2020 6:46 am

    @really Um, do you even pay attention to OIA football? Moanalua are the 2019 OIA D1 Champs. You keep saying no D1 titles as a basis for your argument. lol. All be it one, That’s at least one D1 title LOL.

  17. coconutwireless March 14, 2020 9:32 am

    Menehune’s gotta recruit a QB like they did last season but maybe not. New Coach may change the offensive scheme to one where the QB only need be a game manager. There seems to be a lot of uncertainty, uneasiness, unknown among the Moanalua FB supporters in the upcoming new Nihipali era. Eselu did a nice job opening up the offense and having an opportunistic Defense but the QB graduates. Who knows, there may be an influx of transfers to help bolster the local boys in Moanalua’s district.

    On another note, if it is true that Kapolei and Waianae were requesting to move down from the Open Tier to the D1 Tier, SMH! Sandbagging! Both programs get talent and huge school enrollment to draw from. It will be interesting to see how Leilehua fares in the Open division. Best of Luck to Coach Kurisu and the Mules! They may end up beating Kapolei and Waianae!

  18. really March 16, 2020 8:35 am

    @WTH, did they win D1? Are they in the open? Last time I checked, they didn’t even make it to the title game.

    If they had so much talent, why didn’t they make it at least to the title game?

    Who cares if they won the OIA. They lost when it counted.

    Moanalua is okay. Please stop pretending that we are talking about STL, Punahou, Mililani, or Kahuku.

  19. really March 16, 2020 8:36 am

    I am talking about real titles, not league titles. How many state titles does Moanalua have for football. I will wait while you research and let me know @ WTH.

  20. WTH March 16, 2020 5:03 pm

    @really, I see that you are very upset Lol! You did not articulate yourself very well in your previous argument. But, I now see that your distinctions between a D1 title and what you call “Real Titles” must be referring to State titles. You should have just said that. Lol. Well Moanalua I believe does not have any football state titles. And since you know everything about Hawaii high school football, can you educate us all on how many “Real Titles” aka State titles Kapolei, Farrington, Campbell, have? ., How many D1 “Real Titles” did they win when they were in the old format, D1? Idk they may have some. In fact specifically please educate us on how many “Real Titles” Kapolei has, from D2 where they started, to D1, and now in the Open? Is Kapolei “overly talented”? I don’t believe Moanalua is a power house program either, but they came from the bottom and built a nice tradition of good football beginning in the Martinez Era to his student Eselu. The current D1 level is a good place for them. Hopefully Coach Nihipali can continue the growth.

  21. ReadReact May 11, 2020 9:46 pm

    Coaching high school football is great. If you only have to deal with the players. Once you add in the parents, it’s not worth it. If the player is good it’s great parenting if the player is not so good it’s a crappy coach. Parents some advice. Back up the coach. Teach your children to respect authority and work hard.
    Every coach is giving up time with his children and family to help your child. They deserve some respect and backing. Coach Nihipali is one of the most football knowledgeable people I know. Maybe only Nate Ilaoa is more into football stats by memory. Coach Nihipali is a stand up guy. I wish for him, his staff and the players at Moanalua the best. Work hard. Focus. Play football the way it is supposed to be played.

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