An occasional foray onto the nation's hottest seats.
Whatever else you can say about Dan Hawkins, you gotta admit, he’s a hard guy to openly dislike. The runaway success he accelerated at Boise State, the no-nonsense sideline demeanor, the old-school bowl haircut, bizarre sound bites that simultaneously channel both Zen and Patton — on paper, at least, isn’t that a combination you’d kind of want in your head football coach?
Colorado evidently thought so in 2006, when even four division crowns in five years wasn't enough to keep CU from pulling the plug on the scandal-plagued Gary Barnett era. But three years later, Hawkins is 13-24 with no winning seasons, much less a Big 12 Championship appearance, and a single bowl game (an Independence Bowl loss to Alabama). Where Barnett at least exploited the soft underbelly in the North division, Hawkins' Buffs have been passed by Missouri and Kansas, and lost their short-lived edge over Nebraska. Hawkins has four recruiting classes under his belt, will probably start his son at quarterback for the third year in a row and the incriminating headlines of the Barnett years are getting awfully small in the rearview mirror. An ideal time, naturally, to stand by your prediction for "10 wins and no excuses," no?
Why he was hired: In five years at Boise State, Hawkins went 53-11, including a stellar 36-3 run with three WAC championships from 2002 to 2004, a particularly amazing streak when you consider that the Broncos had only been in Division I-A for five years when Hawkins took the reins. The step up from the now-defunct Big West to the WAC should have been a rocky transition, but Boise dominated its new conference almost from the get-go, snapping off 31 straight league wins over Hawkins' last four years, finishing an undefeated regular season in 2004 and laying the foundation for the thrilling Fiesta Bowl run under Hawkins' successor, Chris Petersen, in 2006.
From Colorado's perspective, Hawkins was also an antidote to almost three years' worth of bad press, a relentlessly positive, rah-rah sort of coach without a hint of trouble, after seven years of the less-than-exuberant Barnett.
The “Uh-oh” Moment: All of the previous Embattled Coaches we’ve Better Known had the good fortune to put at least a few wins under their respective belts before doom set in. Not so with Hawkins, who -- with his characteristic, kamikaze gusto -- not only lost his CU debut, but lost to Division I-AA Montana State when the Buffs were shut out in the second half. To add insult to injury, the mighty Bobcats went right out the following Saturday and lost by double digits to Division II Chadron State.
Embarrassing attempt to right the ship: With the Buffs’ disastrous two-win campaign of ’06 blessedly behind him, Hawkins evidently decided it might be time to start weeding out the weak links in his program. In a signing day press conference 2007, he gave the nation a taste of what he was talking about :
The tough-guy attitude worked, sort of: Colorado went 6-6 that season, stunned Oklahoma and earned a bowl invite. But whatever lessons Hawkins imparted didn’t last long, as the Buffs slipped back below .500 last year and finished fourth in the Big XII North. (Interestingly, while CU may offer "innermurals," it apparently doesn't offer music classes. Maybe that's why Hawk didn't exhort the whiners to "Go play the piccolo.")
Can this marriage be saved? Apparently, it’s not in that much trouble to begin with — such is the judgment of Scott from CU at the Game, who has a couple pretty solid reasons why Hawkins ain’t goin’ nowhere:
Dan Hawkins is in no danger. Short of a 3-9 season (which is highly unlikely), Hawkins will be around for year five. Two reasons:
1) The Buffs can't afford to fire him. Hawkins signed a contract extension last fall. The athletic department can't afford to pay Hawkins for years to come, while at the same time putting up serious bucks to lure a quality replacement. Hawkins is the best bet for the Buffs' future; and
2) Hawkins is a Bohn hire. Athletic Director Mike Bohn brought Dan Hawkins in, and the two will sink or swim together.
A practical, as opposed to sentimental, assessment, but guys who are brought in to reclaim scandal-tarnished programs generally get a little extra time to work the kinks out anyway — and at this point, at least, there’s little reason to think a guy with Hawkins’s track record will be treated any differently.
Approximate heat of seat: A plate at a Mexican restaurant: Not nearly as hot as you've probably been led to believe. The Buffs’ 2009 schedule is hardly a layup, but if Hawkins can ride it to six wins and another bowl trip, he’ll be in solid shape heading into 2010.