The 45 minutes I got to talk with Dino Babers on Tuesday morning resulted in some of the most enjoyable conversation I’ve had with anyone in a long time. The Syracuse football coach with the strong Hawaii ties is a breath of fresh air.
Quite a bit of what we talked about didn’t make it into Wednesday’s column, so here are some of the leftovers.
Our conversation was mostly about Babers’ connections to the islands.
“Outside of game-day at Aloha Stadium, my fondest moments are the Carole Kai Bed Race,” he said. “We won it a couple of times. One time with Don Ho’s daughter riding on the bed, representing the Polynesian Palace. We won it for Don Ho and his daughter. Another time we represented Compadres (the popular Mexican restaurant). It’s not there anymore? That place was good.
“There was nothing better than beating the Army, Navy and Air Force teams in the bed race,” Babers added. “I think our team included Tim Lyons, Duane Coleman, Jeff Breland, and probably Alvis Satele. Yes, I think Joe Nobles was on our team, too. I hope I don’t miss anybody.”
When told that the bed race is no more, but that Carole Kai Charities puts on the Great Aloha Run, Baber said, “If they want to do a bed race reunion, I’ll come back for that. But not for a 10-mile (actually, 8.15-mile) run.”
He said kicking guru Chris Sailer helped him find Jeffrey Chan from Punahou.
“Chris Sailer is a UCLA guy I’ve known a long time. Whenever I need kickers he gives me a call. Jeff’s awesome and comes from an awesome family. His mom came and gave me a bunch of spices for Hawaii food.”
On Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich: “I haven’t met him yet, but everyone tells me he’s a great guy.”
On his head coach at UH, Dick Tomey: “I’ve talked to Coach Tomey two out of the last six weeks. We talked about his book. I want to make sure I get some copies for my (assistant) coaches. I don’t think I’m in the book. I imagine there is a lot about some other guys, like Gary Allen, the Noga brothers, Jesse Sapolu. Not me, I’m just a journeyman.”
On his wife, Sue Hemenway: “Shes from L.A. but played volleyball at UH. Mary Shoji was her college roomie.”
On retired UH volleyball coach Dave Shoji: “Last time I saw Dave, I was trying to get him to recruit my daughter. She ended up at Texas A&M. She got a chance to play Hawaii, unfortunately they got their butts kicked.”
Jazzmin Babers had 10 kills as UH beat the Aggies in three sets in an NCAA Tournament second-round match in 2015. On the same day, Dino Babers accepted the job at Syracuse.
Babers said he’s wanted to be a coach since the time he was 6. “You really want the story? I asked my mom, what am I supposed to be when I grow up? She said, ‘Pray to God. He’ll tell you.’ So I was praying,praying and praying. And at some point I heard the word ‘coach.’ I’m a little dude, and the word coach came to me. I was short, fat, and my older brother Luther would beat me up and make me go out and play. I just assumed I was supposed to be a football coach. To coach I gotta learn the game. So I did. The weight came off and things changed.”
I asked him if that’s why he played offense and defense at various times at UH.
“Absolutely. That was the plan. My major (physical education), everything I did, was geared to being a coach.I started at business and went against my instincts. All that time, I was thinking gotta go where the money is, business. But after 1 1/2 years I got out and went to PE. Later on I got a master’s in business administration (at Arizona). I took anatomy, physiology. Dr. Tracy, Dr. Kaina, they were unbelievable leaders and educators. I even went to the ROTC program. I had so much fear rappelling off the parking structure. But Col. (William) Olds, he told me if I went off, everyone else would. The last thing I wanted to do was let him down.”
“I gotta start with Tomey. He’s the one who recruited me, and he allowed me to change positions. He didn’t know why I did it, he probably figured I was looking for a way to get in the game. But I really did want to learn the different things about different positions because I was going to be a coach.”
“Outside of UH, Homer Smith and Art Briles, Mike Martz and Ted Tollner were all important mentors to me.”
On bouncing back from being demoted from offensive coordinator at Texas A&M: “Obviously the initial thing was very personal for lack of a better word. It happened the third game of the year. We were 2-1. I was demoted to quarterbacks coach, so I still had a job to do, to coach the QBs. One of my proudest moments ended up coaching three quarterbacks that year, including a freshman who led us in an upset win over Oklahoma. I wasn’t calling the plays, but we qualified for a bowl and the team went to Boise State. That’s when I said I’m done. They said we still have a bowl game, I said, listen, I’ve been really good about this. I’m going to look for a new job. They said if you look for a new job you’re not going to get your bowl check. I knew what I wanted to say, but I just said you guys keep the bowl check. I never played or coached on blue turf before and I’m not going to now. That got out, the team decided to decline the bowl game. And I want off to Pitt.”
On rooting for UH: “I always pull for the Rainbow Warriors. I’m gonna be a Rainbow Warrior my entire life. And I got no problem with being a Rainbow.”