Final Thoughts: Coach Watson Reflects on Season
By Rodney S. Yap
Maui Now caught up with Lahainaluna co-head coach Bobby Watson for a final season-ending, question-and-answer interview. Below is Watson’s very candid responses. His remarks are very thought provoking coming from someone who has strolled the Lahainaluna sidelines for 28 years. He is also the team’s defensive coordinator.
Lahainaluna fell short of its attempt to win the Hawaii High School State Division II Football Championship on Friday, Nov. 23, against six-time state champion Iolani, 36-33, at Aloha Stadium. The Lunas also loss to Iolani for the title in 2007, 28-21.
Now that you’ve had some time to reflect on the game, can you share some of your thoughts, some of the things that come to mind when you think back on the game?
“When I think of the game, I think of the things we don’t see on Maui. I really don’t reflect on what happened during the game. I don’t think of why we won or why we loss.
“Because the competition has been between us and Baldwin, I feel like the rest of Maui needs to step it up. I honestly feel like from the outer-island leagues, Maui is probably the best and we are not far from the OIA Red and that’s been proven over and over. In my personal opinion, in the OIA Red, there is only Kahuku and then everybody else. Mililani, Lahainaluna, Kealakehe, we are all capable of playing with those guys.
“As far as coaching and athletic ability, I don’t think there is that big of a gap. But Maui definitely needs to step it up.
“I have never seen a quarterback like this boy (Iolani’s Reece Foy). His arm strength, his precision, and his connection with his receivers was so great that by the time we took our three steps the ball was in the air. We have never seen anything like that. Number 2, number 12, number 11, their quarterback and number 84, have been playing together since the 7th grade.
“Before the start of the game, during their warmups, I watched them throw the ball for 10 minutes. There were three quarterbacks rotating and the receivers were going through all three of them. And in 10 minutes there was one ball that wasn’t caught, because the ball was throw over the receiver’s head — one ball, in 10 minutes, touched the ground.
That’s amazing: “That’s exactly what I said, ‘Oh my God, no one’s drop a ball!’
“Honestly, everything they threw at us we were ready for, but we didn’t prep for their quickness and we didn’t prep for that quick release. We need to find a way to get our kids to react a little quicker. In the offseason, we have to find some way to work on that because obviously we’re not going to see that during our regular season because there is no one else throwing the ball like that.”
If you could change one thing that you did on Friday, what would it be?
“I should have gone to a four man front and put a little more pressure on the boy (Foy). I would have done that, and the other thing I would have done was let Garret (Tihada) try and make a first down instead of punting the ball on our second to last possession. Our backs were against the wall, but inside me I felt like, ‘Go for it.’ We couldn’t stop this boy (Foy) and even if we didn’t make the first down, the time would have been quicker and we would have had another full possession.
“That’s the best offensive game we’ve played all year. It was the game I had been waiting for all year. We knew we were more physical then them and we knew that once our kids realized that we could block these guys, we were going to just run the heck out of them. That’s a credit to our offense to have three guys rush for over 100 yards, that’s unheard of.”
Tell me about your fans and the Lahaina community, how they are both so integrated with the program?
“The fans go back to Norman Oda guys, Henry Ariyoshi and Lanny (Tihada). Win or lose they’ve always been there. But more so when we’ve had a winning season. When we go to most visiting stadiums and there is more red than there is the home color. I mean you look at that and just go, ‘Wow.’ And the more you see them, the more you want to win for them.
“I thought the welcome back home was greater than the sendoff. I thought that was more important to the kids after the loss, to have people greet them coming home than cheer them when you leave. I think the bigger appreciation is coming back home and I think that was a great thing that the community did.”
What was your proudest moment?
“I am always most proudest at the end of each game . . . that we displayed the same emotional things that we do all the time. That you hold your head up high, I don’t care what happened. That you played hard, you played clean and that you represented the school and the community — that’s always been my thing. And when the kids do that my heart just pounds.
“I told our coaching staff after the game that in the state playoffs, Iolani has had only two hard games — and both of them were with us. Everyone else that they have played they ran away on.”
Is this the best team Lahainaluna has ever produced, how would you rank this team?
“I don’t think I can rank them. I think what they accomplished is worthy of this team. I don’t know if it is compatible to other teams. Different era, different team. In the past seven years we’ve done exceptionally well, but I don’t know if it’s better than the (Jansen) Medeiros (1997) team.
“I look at every team and I ask myself: ‘What foundation did they leave behind?’ And I think the foundation that this year’s team put out was, ‘If you want to go places you are going to have to work hard.’ I think that has been re-built into the program, that if you want to get to the championship game you can’t wait to February. And that if you want to be there, it takes more than a handful of guys. I think they’ve left that legacy.”
The million dollar question is, are you ready to retire?
“I’ve always been ready to retire.”
What is left on your coaching bucket list?
“I don’t know. Winning a state championship is not on that list and never was. I think that what I’ve wanted to do I’ve accomplished it. I wanted to make sure that before I left the program that things were in tact and traditions would continue and that the values that we try to teach these kids continue. I think Garret and the rest of the coaching staff have done that well.
“My conversation with Garret is, ‘Am I really helping you or am I a burden?’ That’s my big thing.”
What’s the next goal, the next thing you’d like to see Lahainaluna accomplish?
“I don’t really look at it like that. Personally, I look at myself and ask myself that if you’re going to continue to coach you have to get better. What did we fail in and try and get better at that. So if I am going to coach, than my attitude has to be, ‘You have to get back into the classroom, you have to learn something new that will help next year’s team get better.’
“Those are small goals, but the only kinds of goals I put on myself.
“The true test for us was the state playoffs and how good was our defense? Well, we weren’t good. As much as was written and said about this defense, it showed that when you play a tough opponent, that the past means nothing, because we were good, but we weren’t good enough.”