Some leaders bring experience from a particular walk of life.
Gary Wirtz has walked his share of miles on a wide variety of pathways, but the new Waialua football coach has no intention of filling the shoes left behind by his friend and mentor, Lincoln Barit.
“To Coach Lincoln, thank you for everything you’ve done for me. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have even attempted to be a head coach at Waialua,” Wirtz, 40, said on Thursday. “My son, Samuel, said ‘I think you would do a real good job, but those are big shoes to fill.’ I said, you don’t try to fill those shoes. You get a new set of shoes to start a new journey.”
Barit retired in June after 35 seasons as the Bulldogs’ coach. Wirtz served as an assistant coach for three seasons under Barit while Samuel played three sports at Waialua, including football, before graduating this year.
“I believe he can take our program to the next level,” Waialua Athletic Director Darnell Arceneaux said. “He is a really good guy, really organized.”
Like Barit, Wirtz plans to be there for the long haul.
“I did Little League, helped out with Pop Warner and ended up at the high school. At Waialua, it’s great to have the big kids and the fast kids, but you work with what you get. I love the fact that at Waialua, the kids, you love them. You know they’re going to give you everything they’ve got,” Wirtz said.
The late change at the top means less time to get repetitions for players, but Wirtz plans to add a few new wrinkles anyway. The Bulldogs worked out during the week under Wirtz’ eyes.
“We worked out this (Thursday) morning. We had 17 (total players). I saw a couple of my old players. A couple were missing today. There are kids who can come out and play, and can benefit the team and themselves,” he said.
Out of high school, Wirtz attended Ohio State for one semester, then joined the Army and Rangers Special Forces, and became a Green Beret. He left at 31 to focus on his family.
“Mom’s a great mom,” he said of his wife, Ipo. “But my sons needed their dad.”
He returned to Hawaii and worked in construction, joined an electrical apprentice program and eventually graduated from UH-West Oahu.
“I had my G.I. Bill, so why don’t I use it to go to school? I was coaching, enjoyed being around the kids, getting kids ready for life, so I knew I wanted to be a teacher,” Wirtz said.
He teaches psychology and sociology, modern Hawaiian history and participation in democracy.
“What I love about it is I typically have upperclassmen. One of my mottos is to prepare these young adults for the next level,” he said. “They give speeches and talk in front of each other. They’re going to work with people who don’t pull their weight, and that’s life. I want to prepare them for that.”
The working relationship between Wirtz and Barit began to peak in the offseason before the 2020 season, which was eventually cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Coach Lincoln and myself were grinding. Right before the pandemic hit, I was trying to start up a JPS team. We had 30 boys, seventh and eighth graders. We were excited to rebuild and the pandemic cut us off at the knees,” Wirtz said.
At the time, he was teaching at Waialua. He has since become a teacher at Campbell, moving from one of the state’s smallest high school enrollments to the biggest.
“The whole student body at Waialua from seventh to 12th grade is just over 600 kids. Our graduating class at Campbell was over 600 kids. We have 3,000 in the school,” Wirtz noted.
Waialua has played some of its best football with Barit’s four-wide offense. Wirtz will still go with a spread-style offense, but his background will play a role. He was a tight end back in the day, and Waialua will line up with one as a practical matter.
“We’re going to get away from the run and shoot, use more of a power spread, facilitate to our needs,” Wirtz said. “We need (our defense) a chance to breathe on the sideline.”
He is willing to sacrifice a bit to provide more protection.
“Power spread is running with a tight end, getting rid of the fullback. It gives you that RPO option. Waialua, the past couple of years, teams know they can bring pressure because our line’s small. The tight end brings that linebacker into the box, but if they’re bringing heat, we have that extra blocker. If they don’t respect the tight end, that’s someone they have to cover,” Wirtz said.
Waialua has a 6-foot-4, 230-pound athlete who is, potentially, a tight end. Sebastian Stone, a senior transfer, could also play center or tackle.
“I don’t know if I want to put him there (at tight end) yet. That’s the game we play, not only looking out for us trying to win now, but trying to juggle it so it’s good for his future. You’re 6-4, 230, I need you on the line to block and give our quarterback time to throw the ball — that’s selfish on my part. Or he can play tight end because that might be his future,” Wirtz said.
The first-year head coach is also optimistic about Waialua’s more traditional pass catchers, and returning quarterback Tyson Apau.
“Typically, we’re good in the receiver department. Plus, we can slow down the tempo of the game. Nothing against the run and shoot, but sometimes it was too fast. I don’t want to change our defense, but I have to because of the personnel we have. We would get tired,” he said. “When Tyson was a freshman, he broke his leg. Missed last year because of the pandemic. We have a couple other options at quarterback that I’m kind of liking. Tyson is not the biggest guy, but he can sling it.”
Wirtz also said Waialua’s defense will adopt a unique defensive scheme that made the Waialua Pop Warner team competitive on that side of the ball.
“This year, we may be lacking the beef,” Wirtz said of the defensive tweak. “The (scheme) is something I picked up from Kahuku. We used it in Pop Warner and had one of the best defenses. Our guys give you all they have and go 100 mph.”
Wirtz is assembling his staff, which he plans on building around Waialua’s experienced assistants.
“I’m waiting for my guys to commit. Most likely, I’ll be the DC (defensive coordinator) if I can’t get the DC,” he said.
Extra points: Wirtz believes former WR/DB standout Kai Hoekstra is playing college football. … Two former trenchmen, Graham Rowley and Micah Hatchie, made big news in 2009 by signing with Division I programs. Rowley went to BYU and Hatchie went to Washington. “Grant played for the (Green Bay) Packers and Micah played for the (Pittsburgh) Steelers. Unfortunately, Micah tore his Achilles. He got out of the NFL, came back and was coaching for a couple of seasons while (younger brother) Matthan was playing. Micah’s in Washington, working. HE’s happy. He wants to go to grad school. Graham is back here on the North Shore working. I haven’t seen him since 2019. He lost all the weight.” … Matthan Hatchie earned second-team all-conference honors at Garden City College (Kan.) and is now a junior at UT-Martin. He is a 6-2, 310-pound junior offensive lineman.