Former University of Hawaii head football coach Dick Tomey has died

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Iconic University of Hawaii football coach Dick Tomey died Friday night at the age of 80 in Arizona. Tomey lost his battle with lung cancer after being diagnosed just five months ago. 

Tomey sat at the helm of UH football from 1977 through 1986. What he did for UH football will never be forgotten.

Longtime Hawaii sports announcer Jim Leahey had many fond memorires of Tomey.

“The University of Hawaii, I think it very, very glad that it went through the process of a Dick Tomey in the early years. Larry Price gave us the opportunity to become division one and and (Tomey) then took it to say, we’re going to play division one because we are division one. He was an incredible man,” Leahey said.

KHON: “I read that he was a tough coah.”

“He was a tough coach because he had standards,” Leahey explained.

Those standards are what made him, and those who played for him, exceptional.

Tomey left UH with a record of 63-46-3 in 10 seasons. He remained the winningest coach at UH until June Jones surpassed him almost 15 years later.

Leahey described Tomey as dignified and said he brought something extraordinary to the game and the team through his coaching.

“He was a very good coach and he was well respected, always well respected.”

Rich miano, played for Tomey at UH between 1980 and 1985 before going on to play pro ball for the New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles.

“People talk about influences, and mentors and coaches, he was all that and then some because he believed in you. He believed in the walk on. He believed in the local player. He believed in  the Sapolus, the Sateles, the Rich Mianos,” Miano explained.

The things that stood out to Miano most about Tomey was his loyalty.

“I remember one time (Tomey) was with Arizona. Mark Tuinei had passed away tragically. (Tomey) flew back for the evening ceremony, had to get back on a plane cause it was in the middle of spring practice. What coach does that? That just shows his loyalty to Hawaii, to the Polynesian players, to the being who Dick Tomey was, which was a father figure to all of us,” Miano said. 

After a decade at UH, Tomey coached at Arizona for14 years. He went to coach in the NFL and later at San Jose State.

But the islands always held a special place in his heart. He returned in 2011 as Warriors special teams coach.

University of Hawaii athletic director David Matlin remembers Tomey’s dedication.

“He told me coaching football is easy. Coaching people is a challenging thing and the most important thing. He understood that the business was really about people. He’s just a caring man and he loved Hawaii. We miss him. We miss him so much,” Matlin said.

Tomey’s family released a message saying that they rarely talk about how many games he won, they talk about how many hearts he won. Including theirs.

And I’m sure they are proud to know he also won many here in Hawaii.

The family of former University of Hawaii head football coach Dick Tomey announced his death with the following message:

It is with great sadness that we share the news of Dick Tomey’s death on May 10, 2019 at 9:30 p.m. He died surrounded by his family, resting peacefully, after battling lung cancer for months. We are all heartbroken to lose him, but are forever grateful to have shared his life.

To us, Dick Tomey was one of a kind. Known for his room-for-everyone big-heartedness, generous spiritedness (to a fault), instinctive kindness, love and respect for people of all walks, and the ease with which he forgave himself and others and moved on with life without resentments-taught all of us so much. Dick Tomey was never petty, never small minded. He was a man who discovered his mission in life, embraced it, enjoyed it, and accomplished amazing things. When speaking of football, he often said, “Football is not complicated. People are.” He was always, first and foremost, a people person.

On the football field he was a tough as nails coach, who loved fierce competition and the thrill of team-building. He loved his players, every single one of them-always. He was hard on them. He constantly raised the bar. He could do that because he knew how to find the goodness and the talent in people. If he didn’t find it immediately, he kept looking until he did, and once he found goodness/talent he never lost sight of it. He expressed his admiration and raised his expectations-and watched both things multiply. Just that gift alone changed lives, including some of ours. When it came to football, Dick Tomey had an eye for undiscovered ability, an eye for raw potential, an eye for leadership-and a deep regard for guys who walked on, who sacrificed to play the game simply because they loved it. He was never afraid to be the underdog coach, with the underdog team… in fact, he was partial to taking his underdog team(s) in to play the moneyed power schools… and his teams won their share of those games. 

Off the field Dick was a beautiful human being. His was a loving spirit. He was a natural leader, a natural teacher. His gift of oratory was legendary. Nearly everyone who knew him can quote Dick Tomey on some subject. Words were his most powerful tool (even his profanity was eloquent). When he spoke he made listeners out of non-listeners, believers out of non-believers. He lifted, he challenged, he inspired. He could change the way a person thought about life, about the world around him, and the person would be better for the change. His own family is proof of that.

Dick Tomey never aspired to fame or fortune. As a young man he dreamed of coaching junior high football. His long career included its share of hard knocks and frustrations, but he insisted, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” It was his selflessness and dedication to the common good that always propelled him forward.
As a family we rarely talk about how many games Dick Tomey won-we talk about how many hearts he won… including all of ours.


A Celebration of Life will be announced at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, the Dick Tomey Legacy Fund has been established through the Positive Coaching Alliance (501c3). 100% of these funds will go directly to providing scholarships and programing for underserved youth in the markets where Dick spent the majority of his years in the community as the Head Football Coach.

Visit to designate the Hawaii, Arizona, or Bay Area Chapter as the beneficiary of your donation to the Dick Tomey Legacy Fund. 

Thank you to everyone for your love and support during this tough time.

– The Tomey Family

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