I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him;
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones,
So let it be with Caesar...
With half the season left, it might be too soon to start talking about Dan Hawkins's departure and what it will mean as CU opens a new chapter by joining the PAC-10/12. But the embarrassing shut-out at Mizzou followed by apparent coaching brain-freezes in two eminently winnable games at home should by all rights have sealed Hawkins's fate. Barring unlikely string of shocking upsets CU is again going to finish below .500, and stands a good chance of going winless in Big-12 conference play.
With the writing on the wall, we might as well indulge in our speculation as contemplating the OU game seems a little depressing at the moment. Replacing Hawkins with a superstar coach might be tough because of the job constraints, as pointed out elsewhere, but what will our new coach face when he walks in the door this January? For that, it is useful to look at a little history lesson.
A Brief History of Colorado Coaches
In the course of 120 years, CU football has been guided by some men who have achieved near mythic status in the hearts of CU fans. Fred Folsom and Dallas Ward helped guide the Buffs to some of their best years. But let's confine our examination of CU coaches to a more modern era.
In 1963, at the start of the Big-8 conference, the Buffs were guided by Eddie Crowder. Crowder set the expectations of Buff football excellence, inheriting a 2-8 team and guiding them to a winning record over the course of the next 10 years. Along the way, Crowder took the Buffs to five bowl games (showing a 3-2 record). Since he retired from coaching in 1973, Crowder's 67-49-2 record stands as the third best record in Colorado history.
As AD, Crowder helped choose his coaching replacement. Bill Mallory was recruited from Miami(OH) to serve as head coach for five years. Mallory built upon Crowder's success, coaching the team to a Big-8 championship and the Orange bowl in his third year. Alas, Mallory's fourth and fifth year slid downhill, and Crowder lost patience and canned Mallory in 1978 despite Mallory's winning record (35-21-1).
Crowder then went looking for a successful coach to turn the team back around. Sadly, instead he ushered in the bleakest coaching era of CU football history. Chuck Fairbanks had proven to be a stellar coach at Oklahoma, with a 52-15-1 record, later reduced to 43-24-1 by 9 forfeits levied by the NCAA for the 1972 season. Skipping out of OU one step ahead of the NCAA sanctions, Fairbanks ended up in the NFL with the New England Patriots. Fairbanks rebuilt the mediocre Pats into a championship caliber team, then again embroiled himself in a soap opera when he accepted the Head Coach position at Colorado without mentioning it to the Patriots (and with two years left on his contract). After the dust from the litigations and some of the Buffs Booster club passed the hat to buy his contract from the Patriots, Fairbanks joined Colorado for the 1979 season.
It would be fair to say that Fairbanks was not a big hit in Boulder. The distractions from the lawsuits and the installation of a pro-style offense in place of Mallory's run-heavy offense led to a disappointing 3-8 first season. The next year was even tougher, as the Buffs slipped to 1-10, followed by a rebound back up to 3-8. Yes, Fairbanks took a winning team and compiled a 7-26 record over three years. But the buyer's remorse the Buffs Boosters were feeling wasn't the only dark clouds above the athletic department. In 1980 and 1981, students were boycotting the Buffs games because of an ill-advised million dollar remodel of Fairbanks's offices while Norlin Library was on the verge of being unaccredited. Even worse, the NCAA remembered Fairbanks's shenanigans at OU and had put CU on double-secret probation. After the 1981 season, Fairbanks again pulled the ejection handle right before the NCAA hammered CU with sanctions.
At this point, Crowder decided to clean up the program. He looked to powerhouse Michigan, and hired one of Bo Schembechler's young assistants. In 1982, the Bill McCartney era began at CU, and the next twelve years were some of the best in the program, with three Big-8 championships, and one National Championship ("split title" my rear: up yours Tom Osborne!).
Looking in the Past to Find the Future
While Hawkins hasn't put the CU program into as much disarray as Fairbanks did, we can look to McCartney's initial experiences to see what might face Hawkin's successor. McCartney was not an instant savior of the program. In fact, McCartney's record over his first three years was 7-25-1, identical to Fairbanks's, and he also had a 1-10 season. What was different was the feeling of hope and progress in the team: at 1-10 the team had endured several heart-breaking losses, and had acquited themselves well even as the world crumbled around them.
McCartney's challenges began with personnel. Between Fairbanks's poor recruiting and the NCAA sanctions, McCartney had few quality players. Jon Embree and Lee Rouson were highlights for the offense, but who remembers QB Steve Vogel? On the defense side, the only player with any name recognition at all was Solomon Wilcots.
But by 1985, McCartney had improved his team talent, and in 1985 took the team to the first of their nine bowls under his leadership. McCartney accomplished this by eschewing the Denver to the Rio Grande recruiting biases of his predecessors, and instead looked to the west. The bulk of McCartney's recruiting took place in California, a locale with as many great athletes as Texas, but ones without such a in-bred desire to wear burnt orange.
McCartney also had to change the offense. However, unlike his predecessor, he took his time to remold the team into his image: with drop-back passer Steve Vogel as QB, McCartney had to use a pro-set offense until he was able to get the players with the skills to play the option. This again meant accepting the turmoil of a team in transition until the break-out year.
When Dan Hawkins packs his bags (with all his trophies, he will have plenty of room for socks), we can expect a few years of so-so performance. The new coach will need to adapt and adjust his scheme to fit the skills already present on the team: there are some quality players who need to be used to their potential. He will also need to immediately put together a recruitment plan as well: some of Hawkins's recruits will withdraw, others won't fit the new scheme. With the move to the PAC-10/12, California becomes a prime recruiting territory again. Finally, he will need to work on winning back the disenfranchised fan base and convince us that the first few years of pain will be worth the wait while the Buffs move back to relevance, then prominence.