As of Sunday, Arnold Martinez is officially the new head coach of the Kaiser High School football program.
Martinez is no stranger to the Oahu Interscholastic Association. He coached 11 seasons at Moanalua, lifting the program to new heights. When he arrived there, only two players had their paperwork ready on the first day of offseason workouts. Na Menehune suited up 22 varsity players in their first season under Martinez. By the time he left, there were 140 players combined in varsity and JV off-season training.
He’s hoping to make a similar impact at Kaiser, where the Cougars were under the guidance of Rich Miano, who led them to a Division II state title, and then Cameron Higgins. When Higgins resigned in May, that opened a door for Martinez, who resides in Hawaii Kai.
He will also switch campuses, leaving Moanalua, where he is a physical education teacher, to teach at Kaiser, where his oldest child attends school.
Hawaii Prep World: Thank you for taking time out of a busy Father’s Day for this interview, Coach. Now that you’re on the ground at Kaiser, what’s the process like, especially since spring football practices are already underway.
Martinez: We plan on having an introduction meeting with our players on Tuesday. Tomorrow (Monday), hopefully I’ll go to Moanalua and take care of business.
(Note: The players meeting is Tuesday, 2 p.m., and the parents meeting is on Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. Both meetings will be at the school library.)
HPW: What are the baby steps you take with a new coaching situation?
Martinez: Regardless of the previous history whenever you start at a program you definitely have to provide your vision, your philosophy, your beliefs with how a program is structured.
HPW: The recent history of the football program at Kaiser has been eventful, to say the least. Is there anything from the previous regimes that might carry over? Or is it time to make your own thumb print?
Martinez: I don’t plan on trying to. I only know what my ideas are. I’m not going to base it on previous history. It’s definitely a unique time to implement a culture. We have a saying with our programs for many many years, it’s not who you play, it’s how you play. How are we going to implement the things we want to become better students and athletes? Is it a good or bad time to do that? There’s always growing pains.
There’s some things in place. Every situation is its own unique situation. You can draw from your own experience but ultimately, I don’t think it’s fair to make dramatic, broad comparisons. What’s unique about this is the timing. Normally, you don’t hire a coach this late. I’m available because I stepped away from coaching in high school to pursue other opportunities in high school and the NFL, to see the new stuff that’s out there and do personal development.
You can get stagnant if you’re not trying to get better. I live across the street and my daughter attends this school. Dana Takahara-Dias was my old AD and she’s a VP at Kaiser. It’s a fork in the road. They’re in a unique and opportune time to make a new journey as far as the athletic department.
HPW: You’ve always been big on preparation and planning. What are the one or two things that you absolutely have to get done from day one?
Martinez: The first thing I’m doing, I’m in assessment mode. I’m in interviewing mode. Professional courtesy to all the coaches that have been working with the players to this point. Moanalua didn’t have that. Richard Torres has done a fantastic job and so has Dave Tom, Mark Gardner, Joe Wigfall and Jarod Ikei. Many of these guys, I mamde it a point to thank them in case no one else has. To give your time for no pay over the summer, that means you’re doing it for the kids.
Assessment, inventory and evaluation mode. The numbers, player personnel, equipment. That’s priority.
Two, implementing structure and culture. Getting them to understand the small things. The how is the most important thing. That’s going to be a lot of stuff working on campus with the kids, workouts, regimens, practice planning, practice structure. I’m pretty specific with how I like to do it. It’s all college style.
Three, once we get the culture part of it in, then evaluating talent of players.
HPW: The previous run included a lot of transfers until the OIA changed its rule in the summer of 2015. The highest count I heard of between our office and sources outside was 27.
Martinez: I heard a lot about it. I was in the media (Oceanic TV) for two years and I still do it. I heard a lot about it. It was a little different approach, I think. Our approach is, I never chose to operate that way (at Moanalua), but I want the young players who are freshmen to have a chance to play here. Like the kids from Waimanalo can choose to come here for academics if a class they want isn’t offered (at Kailua), it’s an exciting brand what we do. We have fun and we care about the kids’ development in academics and athletics. (At Moanalua), we had over 100 kids that went to play in college football at some level. For all the Scott Paganos (Clemson), we’ve had Fresno State, Cal, Oregon State, Pacific and smaller schools. There’s something for a kid if that’s his dream.
HPW: Numbers have decreased in football turnout at Kaiser. The OIA’s transfer rule makes it almost impossible to make big changes on the field right away, so the only reasonable time to transfer from one public school to another is before high school.
Martinez: People have shot me messages. ‘Can we talk? My son will be a freshman next year.’ They know my reputation and that’s a blessing from God. I’m glad they feel that way.
HPW: There are some new changes coming to the facility?
Martinez: There’s a big upside. The FieldTurf will go in at the end of the season. A new training room, state of the art, best in OIA, new girls lockerroom, new track.
HPW: You’ve had a variety of x’s and o’s in the past. Will that flexible approach still be in place?
Martinez: A lot of things I picked up with the Falcons, with Clemson and I think the kids will get behind it. It’ll be very fun and it’s going to be centered on the total development of our players. We’re not looking for quick fixes and shortcuts, win now at all costs and not creating long-term stability. We’re going to love them like they’re our own children. We’re planting seeds. We feel like we can put together a group of competitive guys, even if we don’t have a lot of numbers.
We have to encourage them and guide them, mentor them, be there for them. The only thing I’ll ask in return is you give your best all the time, be respectful and love each other as teammates and all the other things will fall into place. From talking to the coaches, there’s a good group of guys who have committed even during this uncertain time. Richard Torres told me there’s a great group of guys that want to be there, hungry to get better.
There’s an old saying, you can’t worry about who you don’t have. You coach the ones you do. How about we spend that same energy giving it to the guys we have.
HPW: So you’re going to stay flexible rather than be a coach who is married to one thing and everyone has to fit into it.
Martinez: I’m a personnel driven guy, put the kids in position to be successful, run something they can execute fast, not over-thinking, loose and free, don’t care about mistakes. I have a framework and I’ve borrowed a defensive framework from Seattle, Dan Quinn, who went on to Atlanta. It’s really about concepts rather than just running ‘this defense’.
The offense is a hybrid of Oregon and Clemson. My last year (at Moanalua), we had a beast of a running back in Ishmail Scott, but it was always a calf or other injury. We ran the ball just three times in one game. We got into the playoffs, led the state in total offense, but we didn’t have the balance. It was 80-20 pass/run.
But It’s based on depth at the positions. We had RB by committee. Micah Kaneshiro, he might’ve had the most 400-yard games in one season in the OIA.
HPW: The transfer rule has impacted every school to varying degrees. Mililani was ahead of the curve and started a junior program (Mill Vill) that has already fed players who are ready for the JV and varsity terminology and schemes.
Martinez: We’re connected with the Big Boyz team here in Hawaii Kai and the Hawaii Kai Dolphins, which my son plays for. Same terminology, but cut the package down. Give them the most critical concepts so when they get here, it’s plug and play. I reached them out to the youth because I opened a football academy on this side (Footballprepacademy.info).
HPW: Hawaii Kai and East Honolulu in general has a history of flooding private schools with talent.
Martinez: God bless ’em if they (go to the ILH). Demographically, they pass the test and can afford it. I will say this: I think we’ll have an alternative to that. When they see what goes on and how its offered with academics and also player development, it won’t be so easy to want to leave. We want to make it a hard choice for them.
If the majority of the kids opted to choose to stay at Kaiser, we’d be able to do something special things on the field. I think we’ll do that anyway, but if they see the changes and implementation, you might see what happened at Moanalua. The growth.
HPW: You’ve been coaching long enough that some of your former players are making an impact now.
Martinez: Savaii (Eselu), I’m super proud of him. You stay in the game long enough, you see some of your players go into coaching. Jordan Tanioka went to Azusa Pacific, coached there, and now I think he’s a D-line and strength coach in the Torrance (Calif.) area.
That’s the legacy. When you see the fruit of their success, we’re not getting paid a lot. I saw Savaii graduate from Cal. Now he’s taking over (at Moanalua) and I’m hoping he finds some things; everybody to find their own personality. I’m not perfect.
HPW: Thanks, Coach. Any shout outs or final thoughts?
Martinez: Thank you to the administration. No matter what coaching football in Hawaii is special. People on the mainland, I tell them that all the time. It’s a fraternity, the culture here in Hawaii, the passion from families in football from youth to high school to UH to the pros, when you get an opportunity it’s a blessing.
When I took the job at Moanalua, some people thought I was crazy, but we took the approach that we want to compete, do what it takes to grow. There’s ways to do that, and there’s challenges, but we’re not going to shy away from them. Don’t worry about the outside stuff, take care of what we can do here.