Press Pass
Longtime assistant Nihipali lands Moanalua football job

The start of Vince Nihipali's coaching career began almost immediately after the end of his football-playing days.

That was nearly a quarter of a century ago.

On Tuesday, the longtime assistant landed his first head coaching job. Nihipali, a 1990 Kamehameha graduate, was announced Tuesday afternoon as the new man in charge at Moanalua. He takes over the position left vacant when Savaii Eselu stepped down last month to go coach tight ends at San Diego State University.

"It's been like a twenty-four year process," Nihipali said via phone Tuesday night.

A neck injury in the fourth game of his junior season at Western Oregon that the former linebacker calls "basically career-ending" essentially led to the his start in coaching.

"I tried to come back my senior year, but I just couldn't and it wasn't the same so the coach allowed me to be a student assistant and I did all that grunt work that (graduate assistants) and assistants did — and this was old school before all that HUDL and stuff now that makes stuff so easy," Nihipali recalled. "I'm talking VHS; we'd have to go meet halfway with the opposing team to exchange VHS tapes."

That coach at Western Oregon was Randy Wegner. He, along with his successor, Blaine Bennett, are among those Nihipali considers mentors to him.

And there are many.

Nihipali actually started his collegiate playing career at Oregon Institute of Technology, where he was recruited by current-Saint Louis coach Ron Lee.

"Ron Lee was at Oregon Tech with (then head coach) Craig Howard, who was Tim Tebow's high school coach," Nihipali said. "He passed away a couple years ago, but he's a guy who had a big impact on me."

When Oregon Tech dropped its football program, Nihipali transferred to Western Oregon and left behind the tiny town of Klamath Falls, which is perhaps most noteworthy for being located about 50 miles south of Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the United States.

"I mean, there really is nothing in Klamath Falls," Nihipali laughed.

After returning from Oregon, Nihipali has had coaching stints at Campbell (thrice), Kaimuki, Kapolei and Mililani over the years, where he worked under coaches Darren Hernandez, Ron Oyama, Amosa Amosa and Rod York. He has served as York's defensive coordinator for the Trojans the past three seasons.

"Rod, the whole Mililani staff and the kids, none of this would have been possible without Rod believing in me and bringing me on after 2016 at Campbell, so I owe a lot to them and I'm gonna miss those kids," Nihipali said. "But in life there's steps and different paths and you try and tell kids to ‘shoot for their dreams and go as high as you can,' and when that opportunity comes, if it's there, you should take it yourself."

Nihipali, the owner of his own drywall business, said he has gained something invaluable at each of his coaching stops.

"You learn a little bit of something from everybody, which, as a teacher, you kind of hope kids grab that, too. I think you the more you learn from people the better off you'll be if you're lucky enough to get your own program," Nihipali said.

He acknowledges that the program he is inheriting isn't in need of an overhaul. Moanalua went 27-16 in its four seasons under Eselu, including a 18-3 mark over the last two years.

Last fall, Na Menehune brought home the school's first Division I league championship.

"They've been highly successful in D1, so you don't fix something that's not broken," said Nihipali, who had his first meeting with his returning players Tuesday.

"I told them that I'm just trying to better something that's already good. I'm not trying to revamp the system, I'm not trying to do this or do that. I'm just trying to things a little better."

Nihipali said if the situation works out, he would like to keep some continuity on the coaching staff, especially on the offensive side.

"I think any time you take over a program that has success, I think you need to look into that program deep because there's something they're doing that is right, so you try and see who fits the philosophy you want and who fits the bill, but that's definitely something that I plan," he said.

As for the brand of football the Menes will employ, Nihipali is clear.

"I'm a defensive guy, so we're gonna be disciplined, we're gonna play aggressive, but smart defense, we're gonna try and dictate what the offense does and not the other way around, try and find the weakness and exploit it, but we're gonna be a disciplined, hard-nosed defense and smart and tactical on offense and the kids are gonna be very well-prepared and play smart and aggressive and just go at it," he said.

Nihipali already has a pair of believers behind him in Moanalua principal Robin Martin and athletic director Joel Kawachi.

"We are confident that the experiences and knowledge coach Vince Nihipali brings to our program will build on the success left by coach Savaii Eselu and his staff." Kawachi said.

Nihipali expressed his appreciation for both Kawachi and Martin.

"I have to thank the Moanalua administration for believing in me and for taking me in. I've met with them three times and they're awesome," he said.

But there is one person in particular that Nihipali points to as his rock through it all over the years.

"My wife (Cami), I like to say that I don't deserve her. Honestly, she's the best thing that ever happened to me, period. We've been together for twenty-eight years now and I can't say enough about my wife and how much support she gives. She is something special," Nihipali said.

The couple, who have two children together, met while Nihipali was still playing football at Oregon Tech.

"My wife is from Klamath Falls," he said. "I joke with her that she is the best thing to ever come out of Klamath Falls."

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].



2019-20 Hawaii Gatorade State Player of the Year selections

Twelve student-athletes recognized based on the criteria for athletic excellence, academic achievement...

2020 Kaimana Awards & Scholarship winners

Fifteen graduating student-athletes were awarded a $5,000 scholarship from HMSA.

All-Hawaii, Newcomer Award winners share messages of appreciation

View video messages from your 2019-20 All-Hawaii Players of the Year and Newcomer Award winners.

Punahou's Sagapolutele, Damien's Anakalea earn Newcomer Award honors

Annual award honors a male and a female student-athlete participating in their first full year of play...

Lunas' Tihada, Warriors' Akana named Distinguished Athlete Award winners

Lahainaluna running back, Kamehameha outside hitter recognized as top prep athletes in 2019-20 school...

Big Island home 'erupts' when Twins take Rosario

Kalai Rosario, a two-time All-Hawaii outfield selection, was the only Hawaii high school player taken...