By Eric Wein
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Dick Tomey sat on a plane bound for Dallas in the late afternoon of New Year's Day.
Just a few hours after his players had doused him with Gatorade and he had refuted a sideline reporter's use of the word "upset" to describe his team's win, Tomey was on his way to begin recruiting.
Celebration would have to wait.
The 29-0 knockout punch his Arizona team threw at Miami in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1 not only capped the most successful season of UA football, it brought a smile to the face of the usually subdued coach.
The man who seldom shows much emotion in public, whether it be after a key victory or a demoralizing loss, flashed a grin on the field that told the whole story.
Dick Tomey had earned a huge win, one that could hardly be overshadowed by any other win in Arizona football.
Not unusually, he wasn't one to take the credit.
"I'm just glad these guys took me along for the ride," he said simply.
That kind of reasoning has followed him ever since he left Michigan City, Ind., 32 years ago to begin his coaching career. Tomey maintains a central belief that his program is like a family to him.
"I value the relationships with the players and the coaches above anything else in coaching," Tomey said. "You're not just in it for the winning and losing. You're in it for the relationships and what you can contribute to some young person's development."
Others echo that belief when they discuss their relationships with Tomey.
"He really does care about the players, I just don't think it's talk," guard Warner Smith said. "My grandpa died a couple of days before the Fiesta Bowl. I was off to his services and it wasn't even an issue for him (Tomey) _ the game was secondary. He was more concerned with me, whether I was able to play or not. That, to me, really showed a lot."
His players describe him as a person they can go to any time they have a problem. And Tomey says he would never want to insist that his office door remain closed or require his players to make appointments.
"The guys on our staff really appreciate Coach Tomey because he's a very caring person," said defensive coordinator Larry Mac Duff, who has coached with Tomey for 10 seasons.
Loyalty to Tomey runs deep in the minds of his assistant coaches.
During the offseason, three of his top assistants were offered lucrative jobs at equally prestigious programs, but turned them down to stay at Arizona.
Another coach, Johnnie Lynn, left the program to fulfill a lifelong dream of coaching in the NFL, ending a 20-year relationship with Tomey as both a player and coach.
"We have loyalty to him because he, as a head coach, has tremendous interest in each and every one of us," Mac Duff said.
Offensive coordinator Duane Akina got his first full-time coaching job as an assistant under Tomey in 1981. He said he respects how Tomey gives him enough time to be with his four children.
"I'm very loyal to him. He took a chance on me, gave me my first job. You have to always remember your roots," Akina said. "He may be different than other coaches because he does not put himself above any of the other coaches. He's very easy to talk to, yet there's no mistake where the authority on this football team is. We all know who the head coach is."
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Tomey began coaching baseball, basketball and football at the high school level before moving to the college level.
After several assistant jobs, including seven years at UCLA, he took his first head coaching job in 1977 at Hawaii.
His arrival in Honolulu came at a critical time for the program. In Tomey's second season, Hawaii moved up to Division I. Twice he guided the Rainbows to second-place finishes in the Western Athletic Conference.
Aside from his record, Tomey is remembered there for walking on hot coals with his players, an idea given to him at a seminar. He said it was intended to help them visualize success and remove fear from their lives.
"It's a personal development experience," he explained. "It had nothing to do with football."
While UA fans debate which was the school's top victory _ the Fiesta Bowl win or the Wildcats' 16-3 upset of then-No. 1 Washington in 1992 _ Tomey said his sweetest win is an unlikely one.
Tomey points back to the Wildcats' 31-14 win over Southern Cal at Arizona Stadium that was merely their final win of a dismal 4-7 1991 season.
"We had trouble winning and we beat them with a bunch of freshmen on the line," recalled Tomey, who owns a 109-77-7 record as a head coach. "There has not ever been a win that's more gratifying than that one."
In his seven years at Arizona, he has raised a perennial contender in the conference to a champion of sorts _ Arizona won a share of its first Pac-10 title last season.
Still, not everything was glorious before last season. His position has forced him to be a target of the media after both losses and narrow wins.
"I don't really pay attention to them, to tell you the truth," Tomey said of his doubters. "I understand that's a big part of it _ second-guessing is a big part of football."
Some members of the media called for his job when the Wildcats began the 1992 season sluggishly with a 1-2-1 record. Tomey responded by leading the team on a five-game winning streak and earning Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors.
But what does bother him are the constant attacks on his offense, many of which have come from the national media. The press brands it boring. But Tomey said he will do whatever it takes to win. "People don't know what they're talking about," Tomey said. "If what we're doing is a little bit out of the realm of what Joe Public wants, that's OK. He doesn't know and I don't feel compelled to listen."
While he comes off as quiet to the public, his players have seen a different side of him.
Like any other football coach, he will show an angry side when things look grim.
"Every head coach has a mean streak," defensive end Tedy Bruschi said. "When something is not going right, he's going to throw some chairs and say some words some people need to hear. He'll be the first to tell you if you're not doing your job."
Said Smith: "Behind closed doors, he's got some fury in him. Don't let him fool you with his nice-guy image. He'll yell and holler. The thing about him is he's honest."
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Away from campus, Tomey tackles what can be a rewarding and sometimes equally stressful role _ father. He lives with his wife, Kim, and Sonny, his 15-year-old son. But he still makes time for his grown children _ 24-year-old Rich and 19-year-old Angie.
"He gets upset a lot. He doesn't get mad, but he looks sad when everything goes wrong," said Angie, who has attended Colorado and the UA but is taking this semester off to work.
He will discuss with his family during the week how the team is preparing for an upcoming game.
After a game, he usually watches a tape of that night's game before drifting off to sleep in front of the TV.
"I can never understand that," Angie said. "I'm like, 'Dad, go to bed.'"
He occasionally won't hear some of the negative comments made about him, but his family will.
His children said there have been times when negative press bothered them, but they have grown accustomed to it.
"I think seasons, depending on how they go, are tough on families," Tomey said. "I think the kids think the attention is amusing at times. I'm either really smart or dumb to the public, but to them I'm just Dad and I'm a little bit of both."
Raising a teen-ager can be a challenge for any father, not to mention a father who holds a top job in one of the country's toughest football conferences. But Angie and Rich said Tomey always makes time for his family.
Angie called him "understanding," even when she showed him her two tattoos for the first time.
"I was kind of scared to show him," she said. "He lets me do my thing."
Rich, a pitcher for the UA baseball team, sees his father almost every day and said his father never pressured him into sports.
Tomey has been to every UA baseball game this season and has scheduled spring football practice around Rich's games from the time he played in high school.
When Rich was in the fifth grade, Tomey coached his Little League team.
"I remember one time I got mad at him," Rich said. "He was pitching batting practice and he accidentally nailed me in the head."
These days, Tomey plays several different positions for a city-league team.
"I'm fortunate enough, I'm in good health and I have a bunch of guys that put up with me," said Tomey, who was an all-conference catcher at DePauw (Ind.) University.
Tomey, nevertheless, is a competitor and he takes winning seriously.
The father-and-son duo golf occasionally and Rich said if there is a small wager on the match, every shot counts. There are no breaks.
There is still one more prize he eyes that no other Arizona coach has seen _ an appearance in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1..
Next year, he hopes to show off another New Year's Day smile, this time on the field in Pasadena.
That is, if he has time to enjoy it. Read Next Article