[Introduction – My sentiments concerning the announcement last Thanksgiving of the retention of Dan Hawkins as the head coach at Colorado are of record. My emotions have ranged from disappointment to outrage that Hawkins, the only coach in Colorado history to post four consecutive losing seasons, has been allowed a fifth attempt to post more wins than losses. I was taken to task, however, by a CU at the Gamer, who has presented a spirited defense of the decision to have Dan Hawkins patrolling the CU sidelines this fall. Please review Albert’s arguments, then post your own comments below. My thanks to Albert for taking the time to put together this editorial.   –  SRW]

A case for a 5th season for Hawkins      by Albert Moraska

In big time college football there is a premium on winning. Coaches who don’t sufficiently meet a programs expectations’ are often quickly dispatched, even if they have done quite well. Frank Solich of Nebraska comes to mind who was released although he averaged nearly 10 wins/year 6 years (58-19). Every few years, a football program hires a new head coach and a dramatic turnaround ensues. Two examples from 2009, first year head coach Dave Christensen brought Wyoming to a bowl game when they were tabbed to finish last in the Mountain West, and June Jones leading SMU to an 8-5 finish after going 1-11 in both 2007 and 2008. Spectacular turnarounds lead to the perception that changing a program around simply takes finding the “right coach,” yet there is not a magic formula to do that. Many football fans, when their team is performing to their satisfaction, acknowledge that a new head coach needs five seasons to develop a program before judgment on his stewardship can be made. However, patience with that five year period is often dependent upon the coach showing “progress,” which usually translates into “more wins than the previous season.” More often than not, a coach is replaced in 3-4 years than given the full five year tenure. This is not to suggest that all coaches would be successful if given more time, but rather, it may take five or even six years before a coach can show “progress” in turning a program around. The CU football team under head coach Dan Hawkins likely falls into that category for several reasons that are presented below.

  1. In Barnett’s final two seasons (2004, 2005), the CU football season was considered successful by some standards (Big XII North champions), but this neglects assessment of the strength of the North division. In 2004, CU posted a 4-4 conference record and was declared the division champion based on an extended tie-breaking system. In 2005, the CU team posted only a slightly better conference record (5-3), but was pummeled in the championship match. Neither of these seasons jump out as exemplary and neither year was the team ranked in the final AP poll. Rather, CU was the best team in a disappointing division.  Even more disappointing for the future of CU football was the loss of four seniors to the NFL following the 2005 season (Brian Iwuh, Joe Klopfenstein, Quinn Sypniewski, Lawrence Vickers). The team wasn’t particularly remarkable at the end of Barnett’s tenure and this was followed by the loss of many stalwart athletes to graduation. 
  2. But what about the up-and-coming players? It’s no secret that Barnett had a poor final two recruiting classes. According to Scout.com Barnett’s final two classes were ranked 49 and 44 for 2004 and 2005, respectively. Also problematic was that these athletes were recruited to fit the coaching philosophy of Barnett rather than Hawkins. Thus, a weaker class and a different coaching scheme is a less than ideal situation for any coach. Many underclassmen were on the field during Hawkins’ early years. While those athletes may have had the skill-set for the new style of play, they collectively lacked the experience, strength, maturity, etc. to play against more developed teams. At one point under Hawkins, CU was the youngest team of all Division-I programs, not a scenario likely to produce outstanding on-field results.
  3. It’s often forgotten that Hawkins’ first recruiting season (2006) was under pretty harsh circumstances. CU was still on or just came off NCAA sanctions that originated from Neuheisel for 50 some odd violations and there was a big recruiting sex scandal under Barnett that was still in the headlines. Hawkins had 2 months to sell this environment to new recruits and their parents. At that time it was unclear whether the NCAA was going to levy additional sanctions on CU. Therefore, it should not be surprising that highly rated athletes would not be enthusiastic about the program. And, what parent would be supportive of their child going into a program with that history? The effect was a subpar recruiting class, but in reality, three subpar recruiting classes in a row. Three weak recruiting classes create a vicious cycle where lesser athletes aren’t able to generate on-field results, but on-field results are important to get the attention of better athletes and when poor results continue for several years (as they would with three years of weaker classes) it has the appearance of being the status quo.
  4. Hawkins has been chided for weak recruiting, but perhaps he does know something about recruiting. Recruiting rankings only go so far – there is a lot more to a player’s development/ability than the number of stars a recruiting service awards them. Many teams have played quite well recently despite poor recruiting rankings (e.g. Boise State, TCU), whereas others have very good recruiting classes, but underachieve on the field (e.g. Notre Dame). See table below. While at Boise State Hawkins had some teams highly ranked in the Associated Press poll, yet his recruiting classes (2002-2005) were no-name players with the highest one ranked at 72 by Scout.com. Currently, it is difficult to assess the quality of Hawkins recruiting classes because teams from his first 3-4 years consisted of either Barnett’s recruits, Hawkins’ first (weak) recruiting class or were freshmen.  The lack of a solid nucleus to start meant playing unheralded players early when what they really needed was more time in the weight room and learning the playbook. It is not until now that Hawkins has the athletes he needs for his system and they have matured enough to play at the college level.

 

Team

Service

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

Boise State

Recruiting

75

73

72

73

78

57

64

60

AP poll

15

16

12

ORV

5

ORV

11

4

TCU

Recruiting

61

66

70

63

73

73

114

54

AP poll

23

11

22

7

3

Notre Dame

Recruiting

13

5

30

27

5

11

2

23

AP poll

17

9

17

CU

Recruiting

22

19

49

44

50

35

27

57

AP poll

20

ORV

Recruiting ranking from Scout.com; ORV – Others receiving votes; — indicates not ranked

 

  1. The image of the football team has improved dramatically. The team GPA continues to rise and is the highest it has ever been, the legal transgressions are of the “college student” variety (e.g. alcohol) rather than assaults. While people who follow football may look at this as trivial, people who don’t follow football are no longer receiving negative images of the school. Having positive press about the school (faculty who win Nobel Prizes, researchers contributing to the NASA space program, etc.) in the news rather than football team drama is a big help in building a favorable image of the school. Ultimately this will result in more support from the public for the school and football program. This is an underappreciated aspect that Hawkins has made happen within the school.
  2. There are many other factors small factors that are out Hawkins’ control, but contribute to the current status of the program: facilities, assistant coaches’ salaries, administrative support, academics, and expectations.
    1. CU’s facilities are deficient by the standards of Top Tier schools. While facilities are not the only selling point to a recruit, it is an important one, thus this necessitates that coaches somehow overcome that limitation when recruiting to get the desired players to enroll.
    2. Compared to many other programs, the salaries of CU assistant coaches are on the low side, which means that CU can’t easily retain good coaches and is constantly in the process of filling a position. The coaching flux can affect recruiting, currents players who have to adapt to a new system, but also these new coaches are likely less experienced at the BCS level.
    3. Some schools can have high academic standards and do well on the field (e.g. Stanford), but high academic standards none-the-less reduce the pool from which you can draw from and may create a reverse problem. If you are a student-athlete and academics is your thing, where would you want to go? CU or Stanford?
    4. In the late 80’s/early90’s the CU administration was more supportive of the football program and this contributed to the on the field success. The down side of this is tainted expectations given the current level of support from the school.  Given the limitations presented in a-d, perhaps CU is similar to programs such as Northwestern where any bowl game is the season’s goal and anything more special is a rare treat regardless of who is the head coach.

When Hawkins was hired he was faced with a number of deficiencies in the program that likely prevented rapid success in on-field results. A once proud program that changes leadership and now skips along near the bottom is prone to an onslaught of ire from its supporters, but a broader perspective of the situation may help in the understanding of why the program is where it’s at. Make no mistake, Hawkins has a formidable task ahead of him to show that he is capable of guiding the CU football team, but in this case a fifth season is warranted to determine whether he could overcome the limitations he faced and build the program back to a national power, or whether this is a task best suited for someone else.

[Now it’s your turn. Please go to the Comments section, and let us know your thoughts. I would like Albert’s work to be the starting point of some meaningful dialogue on this topic which affects Buff fans everywhere.]

17 Replies to “A case for a 5th season for Dan Hawkins”

  1. I’m not so concerned with Dan Hawkins as I am about our administration. Don’t get me wrong, I have shouted at the TV many times while watching football games at Hawkins, but really what fan of any school hasn’t thrown the remote at their coach.

    I think of our situation (in football as well as basketball) much like a hypothetical Nascar owner who enters their driver into the Daytona 500, but will only give the driver enough money to purchase a toyota camry. The Nascar owner is just happy to have a driver in the race and makes some money from sponsors, but never has the ambitions to win the race. So in this scenario – it wouldn’t matter WHO the driver (or coach)was, he doesn’t have the support of the owner to give him the tools he needs to win the race.

    Do I think we will ever be “good” again, yes. Do I ever think we will be “great” again – not with the current administration.

  2. Albert makes some great points, some of which I have argued. My only real issue with Hawkins is his blindness when it comes to his son. I understand how hard it must be but he was not hired to try and give his son a career. I am even more disappointed that coming out of Spring ball, Hansen seemed to have the nod and then it comes out that once again Cody and Hansen are “neck and neck.” Seriously? Anyone who watched Hansen last year could watch him growing up in front of us. He did nothing but get better and how he and Cody can be running neck and neck completely baffles me.

    I want a Tom Osbourne, number of years not acceptance of criminals, type of coach. Many of the truly successful coaches out there have been around and stay around for many years. I don’t know that Hawkins is that guy but I do not want a revolving door at the coaching position. We seem to have some players and I would like to see what they can do with the same system vice throwing them to the wolves. I liken it to the basketball team. We seem to have a solid team that could make some improvement and now they have a new coach.

    That is my two cents.

  3. I’ll start with the fact I was a supporter of Hawk until last season. Each year and game, there ALWAYS is an excuse for poor play (lack of talent, injuries, he needed more time to get “his” players, etc.). I was incredibly disappointed when Hawk was retained for another year.

    One thing that successful head coaches to is to surround themselves with assistants that are good at things the head coach is not good at. The MOST disappointing thing I’ve seen is the lack of turnover in Hawk’s coaching staff. The team consistently commits critical penalties, mental mistakes, etc. when the game is on the line.

    Mental discipline and preparedness come from the coaching staff. That has been missing ever since Hawkins came here. He talks the talk, but the results don’t show up on the field. His staff pulls off the occasional big win (e.g. Oklahoma, West Virginia, etc.), but most weeks they appear overmatched and outcoached. Players making critical mistakes, out of position, etc. all are a reflection of lack of discipline and preparation from the coaching staff every week.

    A few good coaches have left (e.g. Greg Brown); the remaining ones who have underperformed (e.g. Riddle, Denver Johnson, the current O.C.) and should have been fired. Until this changes, CU will continue to be a mediocre team. Hawkins was a poor excuse for a wide receiver coach last season, and play on the field reflected that.

    Our recruiting efforts have been poor since Hawkins arrived. His 2nd class showed a lot of promise, yet most of those stars (e.g. Scott, Katoa, etc.) never panned out. This year’s class was rated the worst of all; for the first time in recent memory, CU had zero (0!) four star or better players. Who recruits the players? Again, the coaching staff. Where are the 2-3 stud recruiters on the CU staff? I don’t see them.

    Player positioning at critical spots also have been handled poorly. Hawkins admitted that recruiting his son Cody was a mistake. Instead of getting behind Hanson and supporting him this spring, relegating Cody to a backup and support role, now we again are being told there is competition at the QB position. WHAT? That makes no sense. Either give the job to Hanson, or give the job and support to someone else. Cody seems to be a good kid, and likely will be a good coach someday, but he lacks the physical tools to compete in the Big 12.

    Running back is in a similar state. A position that seemed well stocked now is going to rely on a good player (Speedy) who has not made it through 1 season without being injured, backed by several true freshmen. Why did we not recruit a JC transfer or two here?

    Same issues with WR. Simmons was going to be a superstar, then gets almost no passes thrown his way all season. I’m tired of the 4 yard dink and dunk offense. Get the play makers on the field, and USE THEM!

    I’d like to believe we’ll have a good 2010 season, but unless these things are changed, Hawkins needs to go.

  4. CU fans – there is no formula for success – for all the 5th year successes you cite (Mangino, Pinkel), there are one year turnarounds to refute that theory (Bo Pelini, June Jones, etc.)
    Hawk was a great coach at a small school – just like some mediocre head coaches should have remained outstanding coordinators. Hawk is has restored CU reputation and for that he is to be thanked profusely, but as a football mind, he is overmatched at CU.

    Good luck

  5. I support year 5 – but Hawkins needs to win this season – and he needs to demonstrate he knows how to coach the kids he has. If you don’t have the best athletes on the field, you must be more disciplined, more consistent, smarter, and mentally tougher. That requires a different kind of coaching. Kids that lack the god-given talent get to D-I schools by working hard and playing smart. We haven’t shown that the last four seasons. 10+ penalties a game is sloppy, and is directly attributable to the coaches. Turnovers, missed blocks, poor tackling are all coaching and discipline. The youth discussion is meaningless now – if the younger, more talented players want to play, they need to be smarter and more effective than the seniors. I like Hawkins positive attitude – combine that with discipline and heart and they will win. Go Buffs!

  6. First of all, I think this is a great discussion, and much more illuminating than what is typically seen at other web sites.

    I agree with Albert, I think we need a 5th year to fully access what Hawkins can produce. Hopefully by the end, it will be definitively clear if he is the right coach for CU.

    I’m concerned with the extremely difficult schedule next year. Not only will the non-conference teams be difficult to defeat, but a rash of injuries will likely ensue. Next year’s schedule doesn’t really lend itself to measuring the progress of a football program. What will fans think if they perform well for the first 4 games only to play poorly the second half of the year (due to injuries)??

    In the comments above I see folks pondering if a 6-6 season is adequate. This is a very good question. If that happens, I’m guessing the Buff nation will, once again, be divided on how to proceed. I, for one, would consider it a respectable record all things considered, but self admittedly I’m still drinking the Hawkins kool-aid.

    My complements to the host for posting an opposing point of view.

  7. Okay, so here is my deal. At first when Hawk was retained, I was pissed, much like the rest of Buff Nation. I’m an insider on ESPN where they publish the latest rumors regarding firings of coaches. Of course there was stuff about Hawk being canned. I was excited. I thought Hawk was out, and a new coach was in. There was talk about Mike Shannahan, Eric Bieniemy, and Dave Logan to name a few. I was gearing up for the announcement that Danny boy was done. Then, our athletic director Mike Bohn announced Hawkins was coming back. It was one of those moments I can tell you where I was at. I was driving on the interstate, between Fort Morgan and Sterling and I was checking ESPN.com on my Black Barry. I was stunned, numb, pissed, somber, and suicidal. However, being the type of person I am, I started to look at the positives of this. I found myself comparing the Hawkins era to Gary Pinkal’s at Missouri and Mark Mangino at Kansas. Pinkal had a losing season his fourth year, and Mangino had a sub-par fourth year. They were both on the hot seat. Then in their fifth seasons, they surprised everyone. Missouri was one win away from the national title and Kansas beat Va Tech in the Orange Bowl. Buff fans, I know its been hard. We aren’t used to losing seasons. We expect our team to when 9 to 10 games year-in and year-out. Just hang in there. This season could be a gold mine for the Buffs. We do play Georgia and Cal, but they are down. Colorado State is going to suck, we better win that game by 28 points or more and Hawaii should be a cake walk. If Colorado stumbles out of the gate and sit 1-4 or 2-5, then I will be expecting Brian Cabral to be named interim head coach and they search for a new coach will begin. Who would it be? Bieniemy, Logan or someone off the radar? I would hope it was a defensive mined coach. Maybe…Carl Pelini, the Thanksgiving game between Colorado and Nebraska would be family affair. Or someone with NFL experience. Jim Mora Jr, who reminds me of a younger version of Pete Carrol. Who knows, all I know, no matter who is leading the Black and Gold, I will be cheering for the W, because that’s what it is all about.

  8. Great analysis and overall a convincing argument. Although I was clearly in the “dump Hawkins” camp last year perhaps having the fifth year is not a bad idea ( although i still think it was driven by monetary reasons).

    However, this is the year! Without improvement to at least a 6 and 6 record Dan has to go. We can’t go another year with “we are only this far away ( fingers held an inch apart )from being a dominant team”. At some point it becomes obvious being succesful at Boise is not the same as being successful in Boulder.

  9. I agree with c502… I don’t think a 6-6 record this season will be acceptable, though the administration would probably retain him. All of his players will be his recruits so there cannot be any excuses. I am so sick and tired of the excuses… Time for a put-up or shut-up season! Go Buffs!

  10. Puh-leeze. It would be one thing to say all of the above if we didn’t see evidence of stubborn coach thinking, zero team emotion, the blame game, and lastly, lack of evidence of any kind of game planning that suits the players on hand, much less mid game adjustments. I’m really not trying to bash a fellow Buff fan, and I DO respect your opinion, but we aren’t talking normal here. Bad hire, bad coach, and guys, after 5 years, a 6-6 season is NOT acceptable. You can say all you want that “they aren’t his players” but unless you are thinking about forfeiting the seasons until “his” players are ready, you coach and game plan for whatcha got…. we’ve seen NO evidence of that whatsoever.

  11. Here is why you are wrong:
    1. After losing by a combined score of approximately 110-10 the previous two years by Missouri, Hawkins’ team showed no guts against them last year. In short, Hawkins’ soft teams are a reflection of his soft coaching.
    2. Last fall, the official word given to the media was that Hansen and Cody were neck and neck for the starting job. It was later revealed that those were lies and that Cody had been given the starting job weeks before the embarrasing thrashing at the hands of CSU on our home field. In short, Hawkins has proven himself to be dishonest.
    3. During his tenure, Hawkins has failed to establish any semblance of a system or identity for his team. It’s not clear from season to season if we are a running team, a west coast offense, a passing team, etc… In short, Hawkins has no long term plan to which he will stick to ensure the success of the program.
    This is clearly a “throw away” season, and the decision to retain Hawkins had nothing to do with success on the field and everything to do with not paying a $3 million buyout in a down economy while at the same time begging the state legislature for money. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Buckle up for more humbling losses, Buff fans.

  12. I think a top 10 program starts with the school president along with the rest of the top leadership. At CU athletic support from the leadership ended when Gordon Gee left. The school allowed exceptions to the usual admittance rules for a small number of athletes. Without being able to enroll the best athletes, we will never again be consistent top 10 program. So the first step should be to replace the current school leadership with people who enthusiastically support athletics before replacing the coach. We need to be able to recruit from a bigger base. Presidents from 1991 (Albino, Buechner and Hoffman) had other priority’s and the football program started down hill after Gee left.

  13. Albert, I can understand your argument for the most part. I think the fifth year, with “his guys” filling the team is going to be a good one, better than 2009 for sure. What would give me more confidence is if Hawkins looked at his assistants and where the program is weakest and made changes. If we can’t afford better coaches, or he is unwilling to release anyone, then he ought to at least move coaches around to see if some other configuration might work better.

    But I have come around and support the 5th year for Hawkins, and want to see the Buffs start moving back into the dominance they once knew. He had a long way to come back, and he is taking many steps to correct and improve. Regardless of anyone’s opinion of him as a coach, there’s little debate that Hawkins WANTS to win and is trying to figure out what it is going to take.

  14. What’s done is done and I will back the team 100% no matter who is at the helm. But please, for the love of all that’s good and holy – start Hansen.

  15. Personally, I see the state of CU football before Hawkins took over as a 70-3 loss to Texas. The players and the program were clearly dejected and running on empty. One of the reasons I support Hawkins is I truly believe that he *wanted* the job, and did not see it as a stepping stone. When hiring for any job, often the person who wants the job the most and for the right reasons is the best choice.

    I see both good and bad signs in Dan Hawkins coaching. For one, I have been impressed that for the most part his teams never quit on him. In general, I think 3rd quarters are a good judge of “game” coaching ability. I remember many Barnett games where CU was smacking the opponent in the second half, and our 3rd quarter was atrocious. The ability to make those in game adjustments seems critical to winning close games, and I have seen some good adjustments in the second half under Hawkins (even if we still end up losing 🙁 ). Of course, the rash of penalties show a somewhat surprising lack of discipline, or perhaps youth is at least somewhat to blame.

    My general read on the Hawkins philosophy is that he will always play athletes who work the hardest in practice when he can. My guess is at a place like Boise State, when you have decent athletes willing to work much harder than the other teams, this formula for success works well. Unfortunately, at the Big 12 level, it seems that pure athletic ability is necessary. Still, if we have just enough quality athletes willing to work hard, we have a chance of winning.

    I do think for the sake of recruiting and the future of the program that going to a bowl game is a reasonable goal for the season, even if we go 6-6 and just squeak in.

    Thanks a bunch for the article! And I hope the team exceeds expectations!

  16. Albert makes good points and I myself have argued since the first disastrous year of Hawk’s reign that he needed time. I don’t think many of the fans realized how down the program was, and repetitive arguments that we were just coming off 2 Big 12 North titles really held little water, particularly if one really examined all the factors and faced the reality at how uncompetitive CU was trending.
    I’ll buy in to the 5 year time line for turning a down program around, but a school that desires to compete in a major conference on a national level with expectations of other than average results has to expect and demand more than the product that was displayed on the field for the last 2 years.
    There is no silver bullet when you hire a new coach that will guarantee success but I think it can be said that after the second year which did improve and show progress there has been nothing to encourage discerning fans that the program is any farther along than the 2007 team—maybe even at times having taken a step backwards in some areas (special teams, offensive line, lack of a stable of quality running backs).
    Sure you can offer the theory that the original players were not the present coaching staffs players but we are now a long way from 2006. We keep hearing from people that we have the now have the players with talent, speed, strength, understanding of the system etc., but where are the results from all that?
    At this moment the fans that were willing to wait have most likely have lost about 90% of their patience. Sort of like someone out of a job for 10 months hearing a politician telling every one that the economy is really improving.
    As to the budgetary matters of a major program; I imagine it would be difficult to estimate how much of the initial enthusiasm has been lost since the end of 2007 and how that relates to revenues. I have to think that it has had some serious impact. It is estimated by others that to compete today a school must operate at about $55- $60M/year in revenues to keep pace and compete with the middle class of the BCS. If CU doesn’t start winning and winning convincingly soon (CSU 9/14) the biggest revenue producer for the Athletic Dept. will be hard pressed to generate enough dollars that will give it a chance to compete with the middle of the BCS pack.
    It can be said that regardless of the attrition of some quality players from the program that Hawk is doing this the right way. No one can argue against operating on a highly professional level. The only problem is that there are some other imperative factors that must be met while attempting again to become a serious national football program. There is no mystery what they are:
    1. Win early and often
    2. 1a. Increase revenues
    3. Honest and enthusiastic support from the Administration & Alumni.
    4. Academics
    5. Integrity
    6. Honesty
    7. Recruit good quality athletes
    Those are just some of the requirements that are needed, and I am sure others have additional ideas.

  17. Thoughtful article. I can accept Hawk getting another year and I also could have accepted his dismissal. It should be noted that his recruiting class in 2010 was somewhere in the 60’s. Not good, but considering the 3-10 record and his possible lame-duck status, understandable. Think CU has to go, as a minimum, 6-6 and go to a bowl for Hawk to remain.

    Rick

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