By Brent Blum, CycloneFanatic.com Columnist
Dan Hawkins is an interesting man. An interesting man who is now looking for a new job. His ride in Boulder was bizarre, entertaining and disappointing. If Iowa State were to defeat the Buffs on Saturday, it would officially eliminate Colorado from bowl eligibility and throw dirt on the already buried Hawkins era.
It’s another chapter in the unpredictable nature of modern day college football. This ain’t intramurals brother.
Hawkins took over a Colorado program in 2006 that had experienced only two losing seasons in the previous 22 years. It was a CU team that had been to the Big 12 Championship game in four of the previous five years.
The Buffs were once such a power that they spent 143 consecutive weeks ranked in the top 10 from 1989-1997 and won a national championship in 1990. Fast forward to today. The last time they were in the top 25 was November 6, 2005 when they traveled to Ames. The Cyclones rolled the Buffs 30-16 in the famous "tornado game," which led then CU coach Gary Barnett to say after the game, "I thought we had a pretty good mascot. But when we showed up at Iowa State and they had a real tornado, that’s the real deal." They haven’t been ranked or had a winning record since.
Barnett was fired after that 2005 season for his "disappointing" 49-38 record that included a couple of embarrassing scandals. One of which was an ugly situation with walk-on kicker Katie Hnida, who was cut from the team in 2000. A few years later she accused Buffs players of sexual harassment. (Chargers were never filed.) That led to this regrettable Barnett quote, " Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible."
Mel Gibson thinks Barnett should have kept his mouth shut.
When explaining his decision to fire Barnett, CU athletic director Mike Bohn said, "The University of Colorado is a gold mine … and we’re going to work our tail off to bring a great coach to this program."
That great coach was Hawkins and Colorado has been a gold mine….for the rest of the conference. Every school in the Big 12, except for Texas Tech and Texas A&M, has defeated Hawkins at least twice. (A&M and Tech have won once.) He was one of only three BCS coaches Gene Chizik beat in his tenure at Iowa State, joining Ron Prince and Kirk Ferentz.
And because Hawkins is a giver, he was also a gold mine for media members in need of a phenomenal quote.
The first time I encountered Hawkins was at his inaugural Big 12 media day in 2006. Chris Williams and I were working for the artist formerly known as CycloneNation.com at the time and we decided to make the trek to Kansas City to cover the festivities. It was an interesting experience to say the least.
We were still wide-eyed college kids and sitting in the same room as CBS’ Dennis Dodd, ESPN’s Ivan Maisel and FSN’s Dave Lapham was pretty surreal. Williams decided we should bite the bullet and get the national media’s thoughts on Iowa State. So I interviewed TBS’ Charles Davis and he interviewed ESPN’s Bob Davie. Both were very fine gentlemen. But as I recall, Williams asked Davie what he thought of Bret Meyer and Todd Blythe and Davie replied, "Hold on…you’ll have to remind me who they are first."
We also saw a very sweaty Craig Sager in the elevator. And amazingly, he didn’t have matching fluorescent work-out clothes. It was like finding out the tooth-fairy wasn’t real.
However, of all those great moments, nothing compared to the wow factor when Dan Hawkins took the stage. These media gatherings are generally very boring. But I was captivated by the Hawk. Right when he started talking, he oozed of eccentricity and awesomeness. His passion bucket of crazy was overflowing. Somebody asked him about the implementation of his Boise State spread offense in Boulder and he answered with this gem, “We’re a long ways away,” Hawkins said. “We’re in a place where you develop a space shuttle where there’s a lot of buttons and knobs you can use to fly your ship. And we’ve got to continue to work to add those buttons and knobs and features to our ship.”
I’m still baffled. Perhaps Hawkins was the inspiration for the adventures of Balloon Boy in 2009. (Hawkins does bear a striking resemblance to Balloon Boy’s dad Richard Heene, as well as the crazy former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. Look it up.)
Bottom line: That space ship never took off. It wasn’t without great PR effort on Hawkins’ part though. He had the incredible series of quotes prior to spring ball in ’07 that made national headlines. "This is Division 1 Football!…This is the Big 12!" It reached enough of a level of bizarre that I decided at the time to make an audio remix of Hawkins’ rant along with clips of Will Ferrell at his finest. They sounded remarkably similar. "Go play intramurals brother…MA THE MEATLOAF!"
Nothing quite summarized the Hawkins era better than 2009. He predicted his Buffs would win 10 games, saying prior to the season, "10 wins and no excuses." They only fell SEVEN wins short of the goal. Oops.
It goes to show that nothing in college football is guaranteed. Hawkins had won 53 games in five years at Boise State. He took over a Colorado program with a strong winning tradition and decent financial support. It was a home-run hire at the time. He also recruited very well. His recruiting classes were always in the top 50 nationally. And in 2008 Rivals.com pegged the Buffs as the 15th best class in the nation. Hawkins out-recruited all the big boys (Florida, Miami, USC, Texas) to sign Darrell Scott, the #1 running back in the nation. Two years later, Scott is in Tampa, Florida after transferring to South Florida. He rushed just over 400 yards in his two years in Boulder.
As Hawkins and Colorado prove, success is more fleeting than ever. And coaching matters. When you have an opportunity you have to take advantage of it.
The Cyclones have a giant opportunity on Saturday. To become bowl eligible for the second year in a row with the schedule Iowa State has played would be a remarkable feat. The positive momentum generated could be felt for years to come. Paul Rhoads wasn’t exaggerating when he said that this is possibly the biggest game he has ever coached. It is a program defining game.
Iowa State is expected to go on the road and win a conference game in a place they rarely win. I-State has won in Boulder only one time since 1982. That win came exactly 10 years ago today on a snowy track in the mountains. The 34-27 "Carl Gomez special" gave Iowa State it’s 7th win of the year and cemented a bowl invitation for the first time in 22 years. They would go to five bowl games over the next six years.
But a game of this magnitude can go the other way as well. The Cyclones will be three point favorites when they walk onto Folsom Field on Saturday. The last time they were favored in a conference road game was 2005–They were a field goal favorite when they traveled to Kansas in the last game of the regular season. With the Big 12 North on the line, a beat-up KU team with a back-up QB rallied to defeat the Cyclones in overtime. It was a kick to the gut of the program that Dan McCarney was never able to recover from.
Just a year after that "Black Saturday" loss to Kansas, McCarney took his troops out to Boulder. He had resigned a few days before. Any positive momentum Iowa State had developed was destroyed in less than a year. Colorado, under 1st year head coach Dan Hawkins, put the hammer down and dealt McCarney one last blow, defeating the Cyclones 33-16 in Mac’s last road game.
Let’s hope the Cyclones can return the favor on Saturday. But the Hawk won’t be around to see it, his spaceship is grounded for good.