By Rodney S. Yap
Deciding to stay in-house, Maui High School hired veteran teacher Keith Shirota on Wednesday to be the school’s next head football coach.
“I’m nervous, but very excited to have this opportunity,” said Shirota, a 1984 Maui High graduate who has worked in the physical education department for 22 years. “I feel this is my time to step up for the school, the boys, and the Maui High community.”
The news of Shirota’s hiring comes one week after David Bui stepped down after four progressive seasons, which included Maui High’s first Division I state tournament appearance in 14 years.
Shirota coached with Bui for three years as the team’s defensive coordinator from 2011-13, and cited philosophical reasons for not returning last year.
“We feel very comfortable with the selection,” said Maui High Athletic Director Michael Ban. “He’s a Maui High grad and he’s very passionate about Maui High School.”
Ban said the school did an “internal faculty search” as soon as Bui resigned on Feb. 11. All faculty members interested in the job were given ’till Friday, Feb. 13, to apply.
“Mike approached me about applying after David left,” Shirota said. “So I had to think about it overnight.”
Ban declined to elaborate on the “in-house” hiring process or the number of staffers who applied.
Shirota’s name surfaced Wednesday morning as the scuttlebutt to who would be replacing Bui continued to build throughout the day. My midday sources indicated more than a handful of Saber coaches from last year’s staff had received notification of their release via telephone. Three hours later Ban and school principal Bruce Anderson made Shirota’s hiring official and the announcement public.
“Keith’s a great guy and has been a longtime faculty member here at Maui High,” said Ban. “He’s very involved with our athletic program and is in charge of our strength-and-conditioning program. He works right above me (in the school’s gymnasium), so we communicate a lot. He opens the weight room during lunch and recess, so the kids — not just football players — but all our athletes and our general student body are familiar with him.”
Former Maui High head coach Curtis Lee was elated when told of Shirota’s hiring Wednesday afternoon.
“That’s great, I think they made a great choice,” said Lee, the one-time winningest active coach in the state and the school’s most decorated football coach with a 129-69-7 record that included nine Maui Interscholastic League titles in 21 seasons. “He coached with them for a couple of years as their defensive coordinator and he did a great job. I guess there were some differences in philosophy (with Bui) so he took a year off, and I understand that, but I’m really happy that he’s the guy.”
Lee said the school is following its formula for success by hiring Shirota.
“I told both (Bruce) Anderson and Mike Ban they have to get someone who is a teacher at the school, that’s the one thing since I left that they failed to do. Initially, I didn’t think it was important, but it’s crucial. Because all the guys that came after me, none were teachers until Bui came. And of course he did a great job. As far as being there in the school with the kids, that’s really important, and I’m glad that they went with Keith and I am glad that he accepted the job. He’s going to keep it going in the right direction.”
Shirota replaced Lee as a P.E teacher and strength coordinator when the former coach retired in 2008.
“I’m so excited and nervous at the same time, I have butterflies. This is the ideal situation for me. I’m on campus, I’m visible, I get to see the boys every day, and I can check on them. I have a few of them in class already, so for me this is the ideal situation — loving what I do, teaching there, coaching there, it can’t get much better.”
Ban said there are important issues regarding the football program that needs to be addressed in the weeks ahead, “so it was important for us to start the hiring process early and then come to a decision quickly. . . . there’s some urgent football business we have to address, like scheduling and equipment purchasing.”
MauiNow.com has learned that defensive line coach Kamaloni Vainikolo has been elevated to defensive coordinator under Shirota, and former University of Hawaii all-Western Athletic Conference offensive lineman Kaulana Noa will be the team’s offensive coordinator.
“Like every offense, you need to run the ball, but the goal will be to make the defense work and cover the whole field,” said Noa, who is excited to be returning to the sidelines now that his three children are older. “We will be mostly four wide (receivers) and one (running) back. We will run the ball, just in a different style.”
Vainikolo is a 2006 Maui High graduate and MIL All-Star who played defensive tackle for Coach Lee. He later played at El Camino Junior College in Calif. before signing with Utah State (2009-2010).
Noa is originally from the Big Island. He played at Honokaa High School before becoming a four-year starting tackle at Hawaii. In 2000, he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the fourth round of the NFL Draft.
Vainikolo, Noa and Shirota coached the Sabers under Bui his first season in 2011.
On the defensive side, Vainikolo said he will keep Donnie Blackwelder and Lono Kaina, and add Lafaele Manupuna and Kenny Carroll. Blackwelder has been on staff since 2012. Carroll coached in 2013, Kaina was on the junior varsity staff last season and Manupuna had a one-year stint in 2011.
Maui High opens the 2015 schedule at Kealakehe in late August, followed by a non-league home game with Alaska the last weekend of the month.
Shirota lives in Kahului with his wife, Tarcy, and their two sons, Josh (15) and Kory (11). He also has four grandchildren from his two stepsons.