His interview at Boise State was unlike any other, and Chad Kauha’aha’a loved it.
As football coach Bryan Harsin and the Broncos were looking for a new defensive line coach, they brought in the Maui native who had coached the last seven seasons at three Power Five schools.
On Dec. 30, Kauha’aha’a went to Harsin’s house with defensive coordinator Andy Avalos and tight ends/special teams coach Kent Riddle. The pair left him with Harsin after dinner to watch some bowl games.
The next day, after breaking down film and drawing up schemes on the whiteboard, is “what took the interview over the top” — going through drills on the Blue with Avalos and an equipment manager as Harsin watched.
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“They put me through the gauntlet,” Kauha’aha’a said. “I could’ve taken it as: ‘Wow, I’ve been coaching in the Power Five for so many years, and now I’ve got to do something like this? Come on.’ I took it as a challenge. It really humbles you.
“It showed me how much he wanted to get to know me and make sure I was the right fit for this place.”
But Kauha’aha’a didn’t take the job right away, as much as he wanted to, having previously agreed to another interview.
On New Year’s Day, he flew to check out a Power Five school (he didn’t identify the school). The whole time, Boise State was on his mind, even when he was offered that job, too.
From the airport following that next interview, Kauha’aha’a called Harsin. He was in.
“What isn’t appealing about Boise State? It’s been a program I’ve admired from the outside for many, many years,” Kauha’aha’a said. “… The winning tradition, the bowl games, that sticks out.”
Kauha’aha’ a (pronounced cow-ha-a-ha-a) did not previously know Harsin, but he knew plenty about the Broncos, having been on the losing side in four matchups against Boise State at Weber State, Utah State and Oregon State.
He said he got to know Avalos over recent years on the recruiting trail and was impressed with how Avalos had a similar way of checking out prospects.
“I like to evaluate the players when they’re at practice. … I kind of noticed coach Avalos was the same way,” Kauha’aha’a said.
With connections in Hawaii, American Samoa, California and Utah, he said when he is recruiting for Boise State, he plans to “tap into” his Polynesian ties. The Broncos have two starters on the line from Tongan families in nose tackle Sonatane Lui and defensive tackle David Moa.
“What’s good about Boise State, from what I’ve seen, it’s a strong family atmosphere, and that’s what the Polynesian kids bring, they bring that family atmosphere, they’ve always got each other’s backs,” Kauha’aha’a said.
As the players and coaches have made Kauha’aha’a feel like part of a family, he literally feels it settling in the Treasure Valley.
His wife, Lena, has a sister who lives in Boise, and her parents moved here about a decade ago.
“That was a big deciding factor, also,” Kauha’aha’a said. “… It was a huge bonus to do something for my wife for the first time in my football career.”
In that on-field workout on New Year’s Eve, Kauha’aha’a wanted to show “some fire and some juice.” Friday was the first day he got to show some of that to his new group of players with his first position meeting.
Kauaha’aha’a inherits one of the team’s strongest units, a deep group that returns all three starters and eight of the nine players who had at least one tackle in 2017. He praised his predecessor, Steve Caldwell, a coach he looked up to more than a decade ago when Caldwell was at Tennessee.
“I saw a really good defensive line, a well-coached defensive line. It looked like they were fundamentally and technically sound and I let them know that,” Kauha’aha’a said. “… I’m fired up to work with these guys.”
A free agent after Oregon State’s coaching staff was let go, it wasn’t a long search for Kauha’aha’a during the offseason, getting interest from a few other schools. But he found a fit at Boise State, and Boise State found a coach that fits right in.
“It wasn’t even close,” he said.
The Chad Kauha’aha’a file
Hometown: Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii
Playing career: Utah (1993-96)
Family: Wife Lena, sons Kalei and Kalena
2002-04: Baldwin (Wailuku, Hawaii) High (head coach)
2005-08: Weber State (defensive line)
2009-10: Utah State (defensive line)
2011-12: Utah (defensive line)
2013-14: Wisconsin (defensive line)
2015-17: Oregon State (defensive line; also associate head coach/outside linebackers in 2016-17)