To have it happen here — at the place Bob Coolen helped build from the ground up and the field that he used to weed himself — would take a little doing.
As it so happens, “doing” is something familiar to this year’s group of Rainbow Wahine.
Hawaii (24-10, 5-1 Big West) can give its 28th-year head coach his 1,000th win at Manoa if it can sweep UC Santa Barbara (7-30, 1-5) in three games spanning Friday and Saturday. Otherwise, UH will go for the milestone at the field of Big West co-leader Cal State Fullerton next week.
Not terribly long ago — March 3, 2017 — Coolen picked up his 1,000th college win overall, including his five years at Bentley University (Mass.) where he got his start in the mid-1980s. He was the 31st NCAA coach to reach that milestone, and was treated to a 30-minute video tribute put together by his daughter, Demi.
The Wahine hope to replicate the experience. They are coming off a three-game road sweep of Cal Poly.
— Hawaii Warrior World (@hawaiiwworld) April 12, 2019
“It would be really special,” Coolen said. “I remember my 1,000 wins when it came a couple of years ago, my daughter (Demi) put together a video montage of when I began here, and also had some people from Bentley where I coached and all along my travels here. My dad, my late dad. It was really special. She put a lot of work into it. Fortunately, it happened at home and we were able to watch the 30-minute presentation. She had to cut it WAY down. But everyone was receptive to it, enthralled by it, and it was a special moment. This will be the same.”
Coolen is 997-608-1 in his 30 years at UH entering this weekend, and 1,069-701-1 overall.
Winningest coaches, UH history:
Jim Schwitters (men’s and women’s tennis), 1,326
Dave Shoji (women’s and men’s volleyball), 1,283
Les Murakami (baseball), 1,079
Bob Coolen (softball), 997
Mike Trapasso (baseball), 494
Riley Wallace (men’s basketball), 334
Vince Goo (women’s basketball), 334
Mike Wilton (men’s volleyball), 316
Otto “Proc” Klum (football, men’s basketball, baseball), 169
Michel Roy (women’s water polo), 156
Pinsoom Tenzing (women’s soccer) 142
He’s guided UH to 11 NCAA tournament appearances, two super regionals and one showing in the Women’s College World Series (2010). Coolen still considers UH’s 5-4 walk-off upset of Alabama in the 2010 Super Regional (courtesy of Jenna Rodriguez’s home run) his singular favorite win.
Coolen was asked during media interviews Wednesday whether he felt it would be right to eventually have Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium named after him, a la Les Murakami Stadium across the street.
But he dismissed the notion, instead saying former longtime assistant coach John Nakamura was more deserving of that honor for helping lay the foundation of the program and acting as a surrogate dad for Coolen upon his arrival from the Northeast.
One of the first and most important lessons he received: An East Coast timetable did not exactly mesh with “Hawaiian time.”
“John Nakamura basically told me, you gotta take a step back and you gotta let things unfold,” Coolen said. “And things will work themselves out, but it won’t be on the pace that you want. That’s why I think he is more of a legacy of this program than I am, because he knew the nuances of how to deal with people in and out of UH.”
He reflected back to the early 1990s when he was an assistant for Rayla Allison, weeding the field himself because he couldn’t find people to do it in a timely fashion.
“We were just a field, that was it,” Coolen said. “Right back there, that’s where Jim Leahey used to sit and do the broadcasts for us.” He pointed to an area below the current press box and stands.
“It was just a field where people walked by and watched a softball game. And we were under the shadows of Les Murakami. I had visions in 1998, when (state) senator Brian Tanuguchi threw us some money, to get this started. Then he kept throwing us money to build that batting cage out there, to put up new lights, build this new facade and replenish it. He’s done a lot for this program.”
Of late, it’s been his team’s never-say-die attitude that’s impressed him. In the series opener at Cal Poly, pitcher Brittany Hitchcock gave up a first-inning run. It nearly became a 3-0 deficit, had another ball hit the wall a couple inches higher. But his sixth-year senior settled in and UH went on to outscore the Mustangs 22-1 in the three games.
“They’re showing me that we can come back. If we get down, we can come back,” Coolen said. “There are so many little things this team has done to overcome adversity. We’ve had some things along the way, where starters have been out with injuries and someone else has stepped in. Next man up, as they say. And that’s something that’s been special with this team; we have a next-man-up mentality, and they’ve been doing a great job of stepping in for anyone who goes down, and sustaining the movement that we’ve had, which is success.”