An interview with Joey Estrella, new interim athletic director at UH Hilo

Estrella’s top priorities are to enable student-athletes to achieve graduation; ensure athletics program is compliant with NCAA, PacWest and UH Hilo rules and regulations; and improve community engagement.

By Ken Hupp.

Joey Estrella
Joey Estrella

The New Year has returned a familiar figure to the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo intercollegiate athletics, with Joey Estrella assuming the duties of interim athletic director on Jan. 1, 2015. Estrella, who retired in 2013 after heading the baseball program he founded for 37 years, is no stranger to the position. He held the job of permanent athletic director from 1980-1989 and later served as an assistant athletic director from 2009 until his retirement.

In this spotlight, Estrella discusses his goals and objectives, along with the challenges of heading up a college athletic program.

Q: Why did you decide to interrupt a well-deserved retirement to accept this assignment?

A: Although I was enjoying the life of a retiree, I still have a special passion for the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. So when Chancellor Straney asked if I would consider serving as interim director of athletics, I was humbled by his faith in me and was glad to again be a part of Vulcan athletics.

Q: What do you believe you can contribute to this position as interim director and to the search for a successor?

A: One of Dr. Straney’s goals for athletics is to increase our engagement with the Hawaiʻi Island community. I believe this is one of my strengths, since I was born and raised in Hilo and began my undergraduate work at UH Hilo.

Q: What would you list as your top three priorities?

A: First, to ensure that our department has a strong academic program that enables our student-athletes to achieve their goal of graduation; secondly, to make sure that our program is compliant with all NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), PacWest Conference, and UH Hilo rules and regulations; and lastly, to improve our community engagement.

Q: Are there any important or key decisions that will have to be made or actions that will have to be taken before a permanent athletic director is hired?

A: It is my understanding that we will be actively searching for three staff (and) administrative positions that should enhance our day-to-day operations. This will be my initial area of focus. The coaches will also be out recruiting and will need a proposed scholarship and operating budget. I also plan to assist Dr. Straney in the search for a permanent director of athletics, which will begin immediately.

Q: How would you describe your administrative style? Will it differ from your previous approach when you served as athletic director?

A: My administrative style from when I first served as director of athletics and now has not changed. I believe in the consensus approach to problem solving and decision making. The more information I can gather, the better I believe I will (be) able to make those tough decisions that are required in this position.

Q: How has the role of intercollegiate athletics evolved from when you first got involved, and does that present any new or special challenges? For example, do you see the BYU (Brigham Young University)-Hawaiʻi phase-out of athletics as an isolated incident, or a symptom of some emerging new normal?

A: When I first served in this position we had nine sports and a $500,000 budget. Our current budget of $2.8 million administers 12 sports teams but places UH Hilo near the bottom of the PacWest conference. Obviously, there are more fiscal responsibilities which force us to run the program like a business and require our coaches to be very creative fiscal officers. I do not believe the BYU-H situation is emerging as a new norm for institutions evaluating their athletic programs since there are other reasons that the Seasiders are phasing out athletics. What is real is the fact that all institutions of our size are evaluating their programs that are underachieving in the academic and athletic areas.

Q: Will you be a candidate for the permanent position?

A: At this time, I do not plan to be a candidate for the job and don’t think that anything soon will change my mind.

Q: How would you assess the opportunity this position presents for the person who is ultimately selected for the job?

A: The next AD will definitely have many challenges facing him or her and will need to have a diverse resume that includes fund raising and program consensus building along with a strong, diverse background.


Ken Hupp is a public information officer with University Relations.

-Ka Lono Hanakahi