He is a man of the Islands, this ageless wonder named Dick Tomey. But his love of the game and the kids who play it has brought him back to football, and his loyalty to, and belief in his friend Mack Brown has drawn him to The University of Texas.
Dick Tomey holds a rare distinction. He is the winningest coach in the history of two different universities. He is universally respected as a coach and as a mentor, a father figure whose players fought for him, and cried for him.
His adopted home sits in the Kahala area on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, a place where the sun and the sand and the sea converge. It is there that morning rainbows dance across the sky after a gentle shower, and seemingly disappear into deep blue waters of the Pacific. Those who know him will tell you that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is actually Dick Tomey's heart.
The image fits. But make no mistake about it: there is a firmness and toughness in the discipline of Dick Tomey. He will alternately drive you and hug you, and the legion of guys who have played for him love him for it.
He has the wisdom of your grandfather, yet the energy and enthusiasm of your buddy. Best said, he is a man for all ages.
Dick Tomey never intended to be a college football coach.
"I am one of those people who always loved athletics, and I admired a high school coach of mine," he says. "I admired his lifestyle. When I got into coaching, I got into it with the idea of being an assistant high school coach and coaching all sports (football, basketball, baseball) because I thought he had a great life, and I admired him personally."
Ironically, it was the sport of baseball that started Dick Tomey's odyssey to the space where he is the new assistant head coach for defense and defensive ends coach at Texas. As a collegian, the native of Bloomington, Ind., led the Division III DePauw Tigers in hitting with a .333 average in 1958. Long after his collegiate playing days, his love affair with baseball has never waned.
In his years at Tucson as the head coach of the Arizona Wildcats, Tomey continued to play city league baseball.
"When I was 55 years old I played all nine positions and was the starting pitcher and got the save. I played until I was 64, and am hoping to play here," he said.
But it is to the game of football that Dick Tomey has dedicated his life. Entering his 41st season as a coach, he still is enchanted with the game and the folks who play it. He bounces around practice with his cap on backwards, and his pervasive enthusiasm transfers easily to his players.
"To me," he says, "the most compelling thing about the game is the relationship of coaches and players. Football is not fun to practice. It is not fun to work in the off-season. Most other games, baseball, basketball and golf, are fun to practice. A person gives so much, but he also gets so much out of it.
"It is not a complicated game. People are complicated, and it takes so many more people to play football than it does any other game. People play such distinct roles. There is so much difference in a right guard and a wide receiver and a corner back and a defensive tackle. Personally, there is so much difference, and yet you have to put all these hearts and minds together and make a team that's unselfish and pursuing common goals. There are just so many different responsibilities and roles guys play. It makes it a fascinating management problem, and a fascinating problem to try to keep everybody going in the same direction."
Tomey's roots in the game were nurtured from the outset.
"When I got out of college, I went into the insurance business for like, three days. I hated it. They were starting to tell you what kind of shoes to wear, what kind of tie to wear, and, I wanted to be outside, and I wanted to be with kids.
"So I got a coaching job at a junior high coaching football, basketball and girls and boys track. One of the kids I was coaching had a dad who was an assistant coach at Butler University. He suggested I ought to look into becoming a college coach. So I did."
Tomey picked the best school in the business for creating coaches, and was fortunate to get the only graduate assistantship they had. And it was there that he began an association with coaches that would read like a "Who's who" in the profession. Halfway through his first year, Bo Schembechler became the head coach.
Coaching experiences at Northern Illinois and Davidson led him to Kansas, where he was part of a remarkable staff assembled by Pepper Rodgers. With co-workers such as John Cooper and Terry Donahue, Tomey made his first of 10 bowl trips when the Jayhawks won the Big 8 and represented the league in the Orange Bowl against Penn State after the 1968 season.
When Rodgers took the job at UCLA in 1971, Tomey joined Donahue as part of his original staff. Tomey stayed through the two-year tenure of Dick Vermeil and for Donahue's first season of 1976.
"Then I got an opportunity," Tomey said. "We had been on vacation many times in Hawaii, and I had a fascination with the Islands. A UCLA guy named Ray Nagle, was the Athletics Director, and J. D. Morgan (UCLA's AD) thought he could help me. Everybody else turned the job down, and I got it. It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me, because Hawaii has now become home. I didn't grow up there, I wasn't born there, it just feels like home."
And so, in the shadow of Diamond Head in the land between the sea and the mountains, Dick Tomey put down his roots. And in 10 seasons there, he took the program into Division I football and became the winningest head coach in the school's history.
"It was a marvelous experience," says Tomey. "When I got a chance to go to Arizona, I cried like a baby. I accepted the job, and when I went back and saw the players, I darned near decided not to go. I'd been there 10 years, and there was a big piece of me there. But I realized that if I was ever wanted to go some place, Arizona was about as good an opportunity as I was going to get."
The love affair between Dick Tomey and the University of Arizona was a perfect fit. He took his teams to seven bowl games in 14 years, and he carved a 95-64-4 record competing in the tough Pac 10 Conference. He earned immense respect on the field and in the community. In 1999, he was awarded the Provost Award as Arizona's Outstanding Teacher -- the only coach in history to be so honored by the faculty. A year later, he resigned under pressure.
"It wasn't the way I wanted it to end," he said. "But it was the best thing that ever happened to me, and the worst. The powers that be wanted us gone, but the good thing about it was the outpouring of support from the team and the community. I never got so much mail or so many phone calls. My eyes were wet for two weeks because people just kept coming by, players kept coming by, so that was the best thing that ever happened. Leaving was painful, because I wasn't ready to leave."
But always the optimist, Tomey turned the negative into a positive.
"The opportunity I got," he said, "was to go back to Hawaii and get involved in some television and very involved in their program. My son worked for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and ironically that fall, they were in the World Series. Rich calls and says 'Dad, I get to go, and I get to take somebody. Let's go.'"
The autumn of a football coach does not include time to watch the showcase of professional baseball, but it was a perfect fit for a guy hanging out on the outskirts of Honolulu.
Tomey followed that with a trip to Canada to watch the making of a movie based on one of his wife, Nanci Kincaid's, novels.
"We got to do a lot of things," he said, "and we'd go for a lot of walks and watch a lot of sunsets. The two years I was out of coaching were terrific. But I always thought I would get another head coaching job, and I would like to get back in a position where I thought I could really help a program that I believed in."
The cast of characters running the San Francisco 49ers provided the first opportunity, as he was reunited with friends such as Donahue and Bill Walsh and Dennis Erickson. There, he coached the nickel backs on the 49ers defense.
"I was excited about the opportunity to work with the 49ers, because I had never done that before. All of the people there I knew and respected, and it was a marvelous experience with the players, as well as the chance to live in the San Francisco area."
Then one morning, the phone rang, and it was his good friend Mack Brown.
"When Mack approached me with this opportunity, I was thrilled because I had been here several times at his clinic and a couple of years ago I spent some time with his coaching staff. I had had a chance to see first hand where Texas was. I am here because I believe in Mack Brown, and I believe in the kind of program he's trying to develop, and hopefully I can be helpful.
"I am very, very fortunate in terms of the people I have been associated with, and I am more than fortunate to be here."
And what is it, when it is all said and done, that keeps this silver-haired guy running with the kids?
"What keeps me young? I don't know. I'm in good health. I enjoy sports, I enjoy working out, and I've always been an optimist. I enjoy a lot of things -- movies, politics, the world situation. Nanci is such a wonderful person she has helped me be more multi-dimensional.
"On our first date, we went to the art museum, the Kennedy Library and a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park. A perfect day, although she says I surprised her with the museum. What I know is, if your outlook stays young, you have a chance to stay young."