Hawai’i hit a home run in its first major coaching hire: Otto Klum

Otto Klum was only 28 years old when he was hired as University of Hawai’i football coach and athletic director in May 1921. (Photo courtesy UH media relations)
Unlike today, there was not much media frenzy when Otto Klum’s hiring was first announced, as shown by this modest Honolulu Advertiser clipping in June 7, 1921. (from newspapers.com)

As we are about to enter the next chapter in the University of Hawai’i football story, I thought it might be fun to look back at the school’s first major coaching hire back in May, 1921.

As noted in the story below, UH football began in 1909 but through the 1919 season, the team played only local high school, club and military opponents. It was only in the 1920 season finale on Christmas Day that Hawai’i finally faced its first college foe, the University of Nevada.

The program had also gone through five different head coaches in its first nine seasons (there was no team in 1914, 1915 and 1916): Austin Jones, John Peden, William Britton, David Crawford and Raymond Elliott. Crawford, as noted in the story below, was an Entymology professor who later became school president!

Crawford Hall, one of the original buildings on the Manoa campus that still holds classes, is named in his honor. I spent much time there myself, since it was the home of the Journalism program.

Elliott coached only one season of football; he also was the UH track coach.

So in May of 1921, Hawai’i found and hired a 28-year-old Mainland high school coach named Otto Klum. He was a graduate of Oregon Agricultural School, later known as Oregon State, and already had established himself as an outstanding leader of prep teams.

From a Honolulu Advertiser article on May 21, 1921:

“According to notices in the Medford (Ore.) papers, (Klum) is one of the best known of the minor school coaches in the Northwest with an enviable record. Most of his work has been with the high schools of Ashland (Ore.) and Medford where he has turned out fast basket and football teams in spite of being compelled to work with the minimum of material.

“The Medford Mail Tribune states that Bob Spencer, (quarterback) of the University of Hawaii team, was formerly a protege of Klum’s in the Ashland high school. Klum, to quote the same paper, has the happy faculty of turning out winning teams the most notable example of the latter being the Medford high school team of last year.”

History will also show that to be true of Klum’s tenure at UH, which will almost certainly be chronicled again here at hawaiisportsmoolelo.com in the future.

But for today, as we embark on yet another new journey in the story of University of Hawai’i football, let us not forget the school’s first major hire — the man who elevated the program from basically a club squad into a true college team the islands could be proud of.

Otto Klum.

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