Kicking Around The Bolla Debacle

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - April 15, 2009
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Jim Bolla is alleged to have kicked one of his hoop Wahine

If you’re a University of Hawaii Wahine basketball fan with a penchant for sordid tales and legal maneuvers, curl up, get comfortable, put on a Snuggie and get ready for several more months of must-see TV.

Everything suggests that former Wahine basketball coach Jim Bolla is determined to make the university pay for his transgressions, and if his lack of character and coaching skills have not done enough to sink a once successful program, a continued long, drawn-out legal battle may surely do it.

Bolla was brought in to reinvigorate a program that had waned during the final seasons of Vince Goo’s legendary stay. After falling to 8-20 in Goo’s final campaign, it was hoped that Bolla would add to his .714 career-winning percentage and return the Wahine to their rightful place as consistent post-season competitors. To say he’s been anything but a complete failure would be inaccurate.

Bolla did make improvements, winning 29 games in his first two seasons, but he quickly lost control claiming victories in 15, 12 and finally eight games to round out his disappointing tenure at UH. Now, the program he’s left broken in his wake faces the difficult task of conducting a complete renovation that requires not only victories, but fan support and satisfying parents their daughters will not be put in dangerous or humiliating positions.


Whether or not any of the accusations hurled at the coach - many times quite openly by former players - have any basis in fact, perception becomes reality and the stench will not easily be removed. Plus, one would have to be naive to think other coaches wouldn’t use the Wahine’s difficulties to their own advantage, further adding to the challenge of the new coach, whoever that may be.

Much like the cases involving June Jones and former president Evan Dobelle, UH finds itself in a difficult position in determining the most prudent way to handle a challenging legal and economic problem. From a financial standpoint, it would make sense to simply pay Bolla off and close an ugly chapter in the university’s history.

A lengthy legal fight to prove a “for cause” firing would be costly for a university already struggling to make ends meet amid an economy in peril.

The problem with such an arrangement, however, is that public disclosure about the facts of the case would be forbidden as part of any settlement.

And that’s not right. Taxpayers have a right to know if a government employee, regardless of position, may have committed a crime or was in violation of ethical standards to which he agreed to adhere.

And make no mistake about it: Kicking an athlete, if he had, in fact, done so, qualifies as assault.

But while it would be wonderful if Bolla took responsibility for the controversy surrounding his former team, he shouldn’t be the only one facing public scrutiny.

For a second time in just a few years, UH administration has failed in its oversight of the athletic department.

Though allowing a successful and popular football coach to leave town because of the indecisiveness of an athletic director hardly compares to what may have happened with the Wahine basketball program, it does point to a consistent pattern of disconnect between athletics and the administration.

Once all the legal leg work is done, UH president David McClain and chancellor Virginia Hinshaw must take responsibility for yet another embarrassing episode for their administration and provide a plan to ensure no repetition of mistakes.

The biggest step in erasing the recent memory of Wahine basketball is finding a coach with a history of winning and, more important, no history of bad behavior.

Based on her work as interim head coach during Bolla’s medical absence two years ago and during his administrative leave this year, Pat Charity seems to be a logical candidate for the position, if she chooses to apply.

The selection committee, however, will have to channel Watergate inquisitors asking Charity how much she knew about the alleged abuse, how long she let it go on and why she didn’t report it.

Even with satisfactory answers to such questions, it’s hard to imagine her not being stained by the association.

Too bad.

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