Tata out at Kahuku
JAMM AQUINO / NOV. 19
Vavae Tata has been replaced as head coach of Kahuku, sources tell the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
In the past six years, Kahuku’s football team has won three top-level state championships and made another appearance in the title game.
One would think that mark of consistency belongs to a steady diet of sameness among the coaching staff. Not true. The team is on its fourth head coach in that time span.
Makoa Freitas, who spent some time in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts, is the Red Raiders’ new interim coach, according to multiple sources who wanted to remain anonymous since no official announcement has been made. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser learned late Thursday night from those multiple sources and from more sources on Friday morning that head coach Vavae Tata had been let go by the Kahuku administration.
Calls on Thursday to Tata and on Friday to Kahuku principal Donna Lindsey and athletic director Gillian Yamagata were not returned as of Friday evening.
Tata told Hawaii New Now on Friday that he was still Kahuku’s head coach and called Star-Advertiser breaking news report from Friday morning false. But as the day went on, more people close to the situation continued to come forward with information that the change from Tata to Freitas is true.
The Kahuku coaching turnover started after the 2013 season, when eight-year veteran head coach Reggie Torres’ team went 6-5. His three state championships in that span did not save his job.
Lee Leslie was brought in from Kuna High in Idaho for the 2014 season, but he left after the Red Raiders went 9-3.
Tata, a former Saint Louis School and UCLA player who had experience as an assistant at Stanford, UCLA and Vanderbilt, was hired prior to the 2015 season. He promptly guided the Red Raiders to a 13-0 mark that included a 39-14 victory over Saint Louis in the Division I state championship game.
Tata, whose hire was controversial due to two previous DUI arrests, hit a few bumps in 2016. A highly anticipated matchup against eventual national champion Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas resulted in a 35-7 loss.
Aside from one TV interview a few days before the game, Tata did not speak to the media from Honolulu and Las Vegas about that matchup immediately before or any time after the game.
According to several sources, Tata did not allow Red Raiders players to participate in some planned activities in Las Vegas.
About three weeks before the Bishop Gorman game, Tata fired offensive coordinator John Hao, who had been under Tata since his arrival at Kahuku.
The Red Raiders went into the 2016 state championship game against Saint Louis with an 11-1 mark and hadn’t lost to a Hawaii team in close to two full seasons.
That championship rug was pulled out from under the proud school on the North Shore in a 30-14 loss to the Crusaders. Sources said Tata did not address the players at halftime and, after the game, his whereabouts into the next week were unknown.
Since that time, sources said, he has rarely been on campus and has been on numerous trips to the mainland, some to visit a girlfriend in Florida, and some, it is believed, to apply for college assistant coaching jobs. Sources also say that they believed Tata’s original commitment to Kahuku was for two years and that he had always intended to try to get back to the college ranks.
Tata did not attend Kahuku’s national signing day celebration on Feb. 1, said the sources, who also mentioned that at some point in the offseason Tata told all but two members of his staff that they would not be returning next year.
Two other coaches were offered the interim job before Freitas, including Keala Santiago Sr., who was the safeties coach under Tata, according to the sources.