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.