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Wins, not Hawkins’ nice-guy image, only way to get CU on track

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By Michael Hicks

 

Dan Hawkins, if nothing else, was humbled by the prolonged introduction he received.

“You’ve gone over too far,” Hawkins proclaimed to the overzealous Colorado Buffaloes supporter.

Eight minutes after the intro started -- and two minutes after Hawkins had already taken his spot at the microphone -- the CU head football coach started his speaking engagement with the Mountain Foothills Rotary Club at Mount Vernon Country Club on June 2. Quick-witted and not taking himself too seriously, Hawkins entertained a crowd of about 30 for roughly 45 minutes, answering any and all questions as forthright and honestly as he could.

Hawkins came off as a likeable character, which, for him, is a good thing. He needs all the support he can get these days. Though he gained a vote of confidence from CU athletic director Mike Bohn, Hawkins stands as the only coach in school history to have four consecutive losing seasons. Not even a 6-7 campaign in his second year that included a berth in the Independence Bowl can change that.

“The hardcore Buffs probably thought once I got into the Rocky Mountain and all this thin air made my brain not work so well,” said the 49-year-old Hawkins, who enters the 2010 season with a 16-33 record at Colorado.

That’s a far cry for a man who led Willamette University to 40 wins in five seasons and a spot in the NAIA championship game in 1997.

That’s a far cry for a man who put Boise State football on the map with a 53-11 record that included four Western Athletic Conference titles -- three outright -- and won 31 consecutive games with the Broncos.

But it’s not a far cry for a man who has coached the Buffaloes to just two wins in 22 road games since coming to Boulder. Yet, for better or worst, the UC-Davis graduate has the support of the CU athletic department, in particular Bohm.

“Coach Hawkins represents a level of competitive spirit, integrity, work ethic and passion that will serve this institution, football program and entire athletic department for many years to come,” Bohm said in a pre-speech release.

That’s all fine and dandy, but won’t the ultimate reasoning for bringing Hawkins here to Colorado be whether or not the Buffaloes win on the football field?

Sure the program is succeeding academically. CU had its best fall GPA in history last year, its best spring GPA ever in the program, and this summer, it will graduate every single senior off last year’s team, said Hawkins. Shoot, the team even has had moderate success in getting players to the pros with four players drafted in four years, but six players signing as free agents this offseason.

But then there’s the flip side. Only Chuck Fairbanks, from 1979-81, and Bud Davis, in 1962, have a worst winning percentage than Hawkins while at CU. Furthermore, the last coach to have three straight losing seasons was Bill McCartney, from 1982-84, and that was after he replaced Fairbanks, who never had a winning season in three years at the helm.

Hawkins will tell you that he believes everybody has a purpose in life and that sometimes that purpose is a little harder to achieve than others. He’ll tell you what CU needed is what he’s got. That he brings the integrity to rebuild an academic institution that had seen better days than there were at the end of the Gary Barnett era.

And he’s right.

Considering, unlike his predecessors, he has to deal with not only bringing in quality football players but smart ones at that. He has to ensure that they graduate as well, not just succeed on the football field. CU is the Stanford, Vanderbilt and Northwestern of the Big 12. So where has that gotten those teams. How about four winning seasons -- COMBINED -- the past four seasons.

But nobody said multi-tasking with all of those issues while trying to win would be easy. Hawkins knows that. But if he’s going to win, like he’s done in the past, he’s going to do it the right way.

Sure getting CU on track on the playing field has taken longer that Hawkins thought it would. And he’ll tell you nobody -- not even his biggest supporters -- want to win more than him. But he also believes his team is closer than last year’s 3-9 record would indicate.

“We’re right there, a kick here, a penalty here, a turnover there,” Hawkins said. “Our quest for our guys is can we get three plays better.”

If that’s the case then who knows maybe CU will be right there competing with the Oklahoma’s and Texas’ of the world. Even if that means a move to the Pac-10, as has been rumored. If not, Hawkins, even as nice of a guy as he can be, may not be around to see the Buffaloes return to glory, whenever that will be.