Dick Tomey is 76 years old, retired as a football coach.
Most of his afternoons are spent paddleboarding and working out in Hawaii, where he lives.
He hasn’t coached full-time since 2011, when he was Hawaii’s special teams coach, and as a head coach since 2009, when he retired as San Jose State’s head honcho.
It was 2000 the last time he roamed the sidelines at Arizona Stadium, his last of 14 very successful years as the Arizona Wildcats head coach.
“I’m in good health,” Tomey told the Star, “and I’m enjoying life.”
Saturday, he was back in Tucson, speaking at Pima College. And, by all accounts, he still talks like he did when he was the Rainbow Warriors coach, the Wildcats coach and the Spartans coach.
Just ask Brandon Sanders, who played safety for Tomey at the UA from 1992-95 and is entering his first year as Pueblo High School’s head coach.
“Just listening to him, it felt like I was back at the U of A,” Sanders said. “Even just his points about winning and everything else, it felt as if I was back sitting in our meetings, with the exact same things, just thinking ‘yeah, that’s right’. Now I’m saying, ‘yeah, I gotta do that with my kids.’”
Tomey was in town to speak at a luncheon for Coaches for Charity. Afterwards he spoke again, this time to the entire Pima football team and coaching staff, plus a number of the area’s high school coaches, including Sanders, Catalina Foothills’ Jeff Scurran and Sahuarita’s David Rodriguez, among others.
Scheduled to be a one-hour talk, it extended to nearly three hours, and Tomey filled it with anecdotes from throughout his near-50 years as a college football coach.
He touched on the 1994 Fiesta Bowl, when Tomey and his vaunted “Desert Swarm” defense shocked a highly-touted Miami team — with names like Warren Sapp and Dwayne Johnson (yes, The Rock) on its roster — and won 29-0.
He got a laugh about the old football offices, saying “In those days, we had some offices where if you stood up you knocked yourself out.”
One of Tomey’s last stories of the night was maybe his best one, talking about his 1998 Wildcats squad, specifically All-American corner Chris McAlister and the famous “Leap by the Lake.” That’s the one where quarterback Ortege Jenkins helped complete an improbable comeback for the UA, leaping — and flipping — over two Washington defenders near the end zone, scoring a touchdown and securing a Cats’ victory.
“I’m getting goosies (goosebumps) right now because this is so exciting,” he said mid-story.
And that’s just a sampling.
“I wouldn’t want to do it every day, or every week,” Tomey said about speaking engagements. “But I’ll tell you, getting to come to Tucson, particularly when there’s people I know, it’s a great thing.
“The message I’m trying to send to coaches is that if you’ve got a certain behavior amongst your players that you don’t like, you can change it. There’s a schematic approach to changing it, just like there’s a fundamental approach to teaching how to play the game.”
He doesn’t come to Tucson all too often — he’s been to one game each of the last two years, and will be at the Homecoming game against Colorado on Nov. 8. But from afar, he still follows the UA. And when it comes to Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, count Tomey as a fan.
“I think he’s doing a great job,” Tomey said. “I’ve known Rich for a long time. I admire him as a person and as a coach, and he’s just the right kind of person for Tucson.”