COLORADO SPRINGS –
It feels like an election year for Dan Hawkins.
After all, this is the fourth summer Colorado’s head coach has traveled around the state — Hawkins appeared at a kickoff luncheon on Thursday at the Colorado Springs Marriott along with Air Force’s Troy Calhoun, Colorado State’s Steve Fairchild, Northern Colorado’s Scott Downing and CSU-Pueblo’s John Wristen — shaking hands, kissing babies and talking about what he’s doing to improve the Buffs.
At CU’s seniors awards banquet last December, Hawkins made a sort of 2009 campaign promise to his players and others close to the program when he concluded his marks with a “10 wins and no excuses” mantra for the upcoming season.
Despite a 13-24 record through his first three seasons in Boulder, Hawkins didn’t cringe when a reporter asked him Thursday if the Buffs were in position to make a run at the Big 12 title this fall.
“Do we have the potential to do that? Yes, we do,” Hawkins said after a long pause. “But you’ve got to get hot, you’ve got to get some confidence going, you’ve got to avoid injuries. And then you never know how those things will go. But I think we’re definitely getting closer to knocking on the door.”
Hawkins is pleased to finally have some experienced depth on the offensive line, a stable of gifted running backs, and good competition at quarterback, tight end and throughout what should be a solid defense.
There is obviously a perceived weakness at wide receiver, and Josh Smith’s recent decision to leave CU only adds to those concerns. Hawkins has named himself the new wide receivers coach in an attempt to get the most out of the position.
“Twenty-five-plus years of teaching,” Hawkins said when asked what he will add to the staff as the full-time receivers coach.
Hawkins seems to be as excited about the combination of experience and youth on the new-look coaching staff as he is about the Buffs’ deeper roster. He promoted Eric Kiesau to offensive coordinator after Mark Helfrich left for Oregon, hired Denver Johnson as the new offensive line coach after Jeff Grimes left for Auburn, promoted Ashley Ambrose to interim assistant wide receivers coach and was also able to keep Brad Bedell in the program as an intern.
“I think the whole equation worked out really awesome in a number of ways,” Hawkins said. “Whenever you put your staff together you’re always looking for guys who have a general, similar philosophy about how the big picture fits together.”
With a favorable schedule — at least by CU’s lofty standards — that picture should include Hawkins’ first winning season as the leader of the Buffs.
The Buffs have winnable home games against Wyoming, Kansas, Missouri, Texas A&M and Nebraska on the slate. There are a couple of daunting trips (at Texas, at Oklahoma State) in the Big 12, of course, but overall the road games appear to be somewhat manageable (at Toledo, West Virginia, Kansas State and Iowa State), at least on paper in June.
The whole thing officially gets started on Sept. 6 against Colorado State at Folsom Field, but Hawkins’ optimism about the 2009 season grew during the final week of spring drills, and he trusts his now more veteran players will take care of business this summer.
“I was talking to (CU cross country/track and field coach) Mark Wetmore and he was saying he told his team, ‘Whether I’m coach of the year or not totally depends on what happens in the summer,’ ” Hawkins said. “That’s where it all has to happen. Then what we need to do is start fall camp and really capitalize on what, to me, was probably our best week of practice since I’ve been at Colorado, that last week of spring ball.
“I thought we finally practiced — I mean play in and play out, day in and day out — with all the things that go into it like we need to practice. So that’s what we need to get back to.”