Dan Hawkins WAS (doesn't that feel nice to say) the Colorado Head Football Coach for just under five seasons. He came from a winning program at Boise State University, and took over a program that had just made it to the Conference Championship game (yes, they were absolutely annihilated, but that's not the point). Why did CU fail so miserably in his time here? Well, none of us know for sure, but this seems like the perfect place to speculate.
I'll give you my thoughts and theories after the jump, and then I'd love to hear yours.
Dan Hawkins had an excellent record at Boise State. The first difference between the two situations, though, was that he was promoted from within. He didn't build that staff from scratch, like he did at CU. This is key. Yes, he hired Chris Petersen away from Oregon (they overlapped at UC Davis when Petersen was a player and Hawkins was a Coach), but most of that staff was built up by Dirk Koetter. This is something that bothered me slightly when he was hired, considering he would have to build a staff from scratch, but he seemed plenty able to do it. Looking back, we should have known better.
In the grand scheme of things, Hawkins spent very little time at the D1 level before coming to CU. Why is this important? Well, it isn't easy recruiting a staff for a new job anywhere, let alone at CU. Hawkins was pretty limited in who he was going to be able to hire because he hadn't had time to forge many relationships with coaches who could recruit, gameplan and coach at the level needed for CU. That has become painfully clear. Would anyone disagree that our best recruiters are Darian Hagan and Brian Cabral? Both of those guys were here before Hawkins arrived. He built his staff almost entirely from guys who he had spent time with at Boise State. Lets look at the staff (including folks who have left) to see how these guys knew Hawkins.
The first few are puzzling...you'll see what I mean.
Mark Helfrich was an assistant alongside Hawkins at Boise State from 1998-2000 where he coached QBs. You realize he is at Oregon right now, yes? The same Oregon that is putting up crazy numbers on Offense and looks like it will win a Nat'l Championship with a brand new starter at QB? He was also very successful at Arizona State in the five years before he came to CU. This is puzzling. How did we not fair better on Offense and at the QB position in his time here? Talent (which points to issues recruiting) is the answer. He's doing fine with legitimate D1 talent again, but recruiting is the coaches responsibility as well. Helfrich looks to be a fine coach, but most likely wasn't a very good recruiter, which hurt us a lot on Offense.
Kent Riddle was an excellent Special Teams coach at Boise State. Read that statement again. Riddle...an excellent coach? I don't get this one at all. He took a Freshman All-American Punter in Matt DiLallo and made him worse each year. He hasn't been able to find a kicker (Crosby and Eberhart were here when he arrived) and his coverage units have gotten worse each year. With supposedly superior athletes to his Boise State units, he hasn't even come close to duplicating his numbers. I seriously don't understand this one. Are our athletes that bad? How does he have a ton of success at one place, but none at another? And as far as his ability to coach Tight Ends? Yech. He has taken some talented players and made them fairly useless. Since Riar Geer, Riddle has seemingly made it his job to develop Tight Ends that cannot inline block. We have no Fullbacks, so our Tight Ends are asked to lead block, and they also can't do that. They are adequate receivers, but they limit what our Offense can do because of their deficiencies in the running game.
Ron Collins was the Boise State Defensive Coordinator for 4 years under Hawkins and he produced some very good units there. His teams consistently were consistently among the best in country at forcing turnovers. That success has not been duplicated at CU. Even when our Defenses were better, we couldn't seem to force a lot of turnovers. His specialty was coaching Linebackers, but since Cabral was already here, he hasn't been coaching a specific position.
Eric Kiesau (who will be sticking around. Why did we use the two-year contract on him?) came here from Cal, where he coached one of the better college Wide Receivers around in DeSean Jackson, among others. Their Offense while he was at Cal was very good. He has had success coaching up guys at all of his stops, and yet we only had one Receiver have good seasons while Kiesau was coaching that position. Recruiting-wise, he's seemingly had more impact on the transfers (Travon Patterson, Toney Clemons and Paul Richardson) than he has on any conventional recruits. Hmmm.
Those are the coordinators that Hawkins brought in. Kiesau's connection seems to have been Helfrich when they both spent time at Oregon. We all know how these guys have performed here when it comes to gameplanning and playcalling.
Are there lessons to take from this? Yes, there are. Both Helfrich and Kiesau were very very young as our OC. Maybe that's not a good thing. Maybe we need someone with a proven ability to call plays and to direct an offense. Players need to be able to buy into a system and a philosophy, and that was lacking over the past five years. On Defense? In looking at the bigger picture, I'm going to make a statement that any of you can refute (and please do): Our Defensive successes were built upon individual players, rather than the Defense as a whole. I'm not sure Collins has done a great job of calling plays or running a scheme. How many times have you watched Jimmy Smith save a long TD this season simply by being the fastest guy on the field? I may be wrong here, so please tell me otherwise. But I do remember hearing about how confused everybody was those first couple games of last season. They looked slow against CSU and Toledo because nobody knew where to be. That's not the mark of a good Defensive Coordinator. And on Special Teams? They have been absolutely putrid. Technique is poor, positioning is poor, timing is poor and effort is poor. That's not a recipe for success.
These are just my thoughts on what went wrong. Hopefully these things get looked at when bringing in a new HC. We need a guy that can recruit a staff that doesn't have these deficiencies. Easy task? Probably not. But it needs to happen.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this element of the failings of the Hawkins regime in the comments!