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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 9, 2010

Shoji showed his true colors

By Ferd Lewis

How eye-poppingly bizarre would it have been to have turned on the TV yesterday and glimpsed Dave Shoji in cardinal and white on the sidelines at the NCAA Men's Volleyball Championship match?

Stanford University assistant coach Dave Shoji, that is.

He was in the crowd yesterday rooting on his sons, Kawika and Erik, in the national title match against Penn State, of course, but he could have very well been their bench coach, too, shouting commands and moving players like chess pieces at the pointing of a finger.

It would have been a situation largely unheard of in major college volleyball: a celebrated head coach of one school's women's volleyball team taking a quick sabbatical to become an assistant at another school's men's program. At a frequent rival, at that.

Shoji said he thought long and hard about the possibility of spending the spring at The Farm. Having found interest from Stanford head coach John Kosty, who was left with an opening when assistant Al Roderigues died after a long illness, Shoji said he ran it past his own boss, UH athletic director Jim Donovan.

No word on what Donovan first said after he picked his jaw up off the office carpet late in the Rainbow Wahine's 2009 season. But Donovan said he quickly gave his blessing, if Shoji could keep it from impacting a Rainbow Wahine program that has its own final four plans in 2010.

"It would have been a unique situation," Donovan said. "But Dave has done a lot for the school."

You wonder what UH men's coach Charlie Wade's initial gut reaction was about his former boss's idea. Though Donovan said Wade was agreeable, provided Shoji pledged not to be involved in Stanford's recruiting.

Whether Donovan and Wade would have felt that magnanimous when the time came for UH and Stanford to meet in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships, where the Cardinal eliminated UH, we'll never know.

It was bad enough for UH that the Cardinal features seven players, including four starters, from Hawai'i. And that they already had one coach with ties to UH, ex-KFVE analyst Chris McLachlin, whose son, Spencer, is a starter.

But to have Shoji, a volleyball icon in a state that takes the sport passionately, on temporary duty for the Cardinal would have been tough for some people to take, especially if there had been a breakthrough NCAA berth on the line for UH.

It could have been classified under professional improvement leave and Shoji, the student of coaching that he is, probably would have returned to Mānoa with some fresh ideas from the men's game. And, as it turned out, with a national championship ring to go with the four women's ones he's helped bring to UH.

But his absence would also have opened himself and UH up to justifiable complaint had the Rainbow Wahine started their 2010 season slowly or failed to reach expectations.

That's the rub for Shoji the coach. But from the frame of reference of Shoji the proud father, it isn't hard to see where he was coming from with the chance to coach his oldest son, Kawika, in his senior season. One in which, as it turned out, Kawika was named the national player of the year last week.

In the end, even though Dave Shoji said, "It was something I wanted to do," he acknowledged, "I knew it was going to involve me being away for too long."

The decision to stay at UH throughout, Donovan said, "was the mature thing to do. It must have been hard, but it showed a lot of wisdom on Dave's part."

Pretty much, it turns out, what we've come to expect going on 35 seasons now.