Posted On August 31st, 2014 -

‘Bull of Kalihi’ inspired many both on and off football fields

Dave Reardon / Dreardon@staradveriser.com

“The Bull of Kalihi” was much more than that, and Edward “Skippa” Diaz’s grip on life and influence on others went way beyond his famous vicelike handshake.31-b1-diaz-coverthumb

Diaz, a larger-than-life figure in Hawaii sports since the early 1960s as a football player and then coach at several schools — most notably his alma mater, Farrington — died Saturday a few minutes after midnight at his home in Aiea.

He was 70.

Diaz seemed to defy mortality even after he was diagnosed with stage 4 gastric adenocarcinoma four years ago. Although he’d lost a lot of weight and said he had good days and bad days, Diaz made many public appearances — always cheerful, still making hands sore and hearts warm.

“Everybody talks about the handshake,” said Randall Okimoto, who played for Diaz and followed him as the Governors coach. “But I will always remember the bear hugs. For me, the biggest thing was the love he had for us. He is one of the biggest influences on my life.”

Mary Diaz, Skippa’s wife of 37 years, said her husband maintained a positive attitude and remained active until a “sharp decline” in his condition in April.

He was undergoing experimental treatment, Mary Diaz said.

“They were good years,” she said. “But finally so many treatments and so much chemo took its toll.”

Friends and family knew the day would come, but it was still a shock because Diaz always seemed indestructible.

“He kept fighting it up to the last moment, but you could tell it was getting to him,” said Agenhart Ellis, the athletic director at Farrington who hired Diaz to be the Governors head coach in 1982.

Including 17 years at Farrington and two at Waialua, Diaz’s head-coaching record was 108-90-5. The apex was 1990, when he guided the Governors to a Prep Bowl appearance.

But Diaz’s impact went way beyond the playing field.

“One of his famous sayings was ‘The sun will rise tomorrow’ after a loss,” Okimoto said. “He taught us how to handle adversity. It helped that he came from where we did, he was a poor kid from the housing like us. He let us know him as a human being.”

When Tony Ah Yat first met his future lifelong friend, it was in the trenches of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu in 1961. Ah Yat played center for Kamehameha and Diaz nose tackle for Farrington.

“He was hard to block, to say the least,” Ah Yat said. “He had a unique reputation. Word got around fast. Everybody knew each other and word travels fast. He was intense and tough, hard-nosed. He’d punish you before he made the tackle.”

They became close when Ah Yat was coaching in Portland, Ore., after completing his college career at Linfield and Diaz was at Oregon State.

“We would get together, and that’s when I found out how smart he was,” Ah Yat said. “At first we all looked at him as one-dimensional, a tough guy. But then we were sitting down talking and he told me he was a double-major at Oregon State, history and business.”

He eventually earned a master’s degree.

Diaz was nearly as famous for his vocabulary as he was for his handshake. “Indubitably” was his favorite word.

“I certainly must say he was an intellectual, with a photographic memory,” Mary Diaz said. “He always beat me at Scrabble. I got used to losing.

“He was also very tenderhearted. He cried at movies. Cartoon movies.”

Diaz was an All Pac-8 defensive tackle at Oregon State and played in the CFL before returning to Hawaii to coach and teach at Washington Intermediate, Waialua, Kalani, Mililani and Farrington.

When Al Espinda was set to retire as Farrington head coach, Ellis knew who he wanted. The guy he said “used to knock me out (in high school games),” his Hula Bowl teammate.

“The first thing I did was call him. I said, ‘Skip, you gotta come now, the teaching position is open.’ He was happy at Mililani, and I didn’t want to steal (John Kauinana’s) guy, but Skip was the right guy for our kids in our school and our community. Our kids, you let ’em loose, they can buck-a-loose. You need someone entrenched in the community.”

Diaz also coached track and field at Farrington.

“He loved track,” Ellis said. “It was his release, and another way he could help kids.”

Diaz retired from coaching and teaching in 1999 but continued to be influential as deputy director of Honolulu City and County Parks and Recreation and on the Aloha Stadium Authority.

Friends threw a surprise 70th birthday party for him in February.

Ah Yat said he used to tease his friend about his nickname.

“Skip, how are you The Bull of Kalihi, but you’re from Palama?”

Ah Yat paused.

“He was just The Bull.”

In addition to his wife, Diaz is survived by his sons Gerald Krause and James Akau Diaz; daughter Kathleen Starks; 14 grandchildren; one great-grandchild; sisters Marion Kahale, Elizabeth Charles, Leetha Faleafine and Harriet Martinez; and many nieces and nephews.

Services are pending.

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