Now is not the time to make fun of Dan Hawkins. Those bits will be later in the article, if you want to skip ahead. Now is the time to remember how excited Boulder was for Hawkins.
On December 16, 2005, CU announced they hired Hawkins, the fast-rising head coach from Boise State. At the turn of the century, Hawkins turned Boise State from an upstart FBS newcomer to a mid-major power. From 2002 to 2004, the Broncos went 36-3, won a record 31 consecutive WAC games, swept conference championships, won two of three bowl games and peaked at No. 10 in the AP Poll. Considering Boise State had joined the FBS in 1996 and were recruiting from Idaho as a WAC school, their rise was extraordinary. He even hired soon-to-be-stars Mark Helfrich and Chris Petersen, his eventual successor, as assistants.
Hawkins, the hottest name in coaching it seemed, was to replace Gary Barnett, he of the many scandals and massive collapses. For the Buffs, this was as good of a hire as possible. After Rick Neuheisel and Barnett saw the CU football program go from the peak years of Bill McCartney to that in under a decade, Hawkins was perfectly poised to return them to those glory years. At Colorado he would bring savvy recruiting, excellent tactics and a new level of confidence.
Ha ha ha. Ha ha. Ha.
The argument is there that Colorado shouldn’t have hired Hawkins in the first place. He had barely coached on a D1 level and never against top flight programs. There was no evidence he could recruit against Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska, or any of the other mid-level Big XII teams, for that matter. Even before coming to Colorado, he seemed set on recruiting and presumably starting his son wherever he went. The list goes on. But hindsight is 20/20, and Hawk sight is 20/2.
So today we look not at the catastrophic failure that was the hiring of Hawkins, but at the alternative history in which he lived up to expectations.
Dan Hawkins’ first year was an unmitigated disaster from the very first game when they lost 19-10 to FCS Montana State. They followed that up with a lethargic performance against an equally awful Colorado State squad. They followed that up with four more losses before finally beating Texas Tech. They finished 2-10.
In this alternate history, the Montana State game was not a loss, but a near-disaster. In the third quarter down 13-10, Hawkins calls the perfect play. On third-and-7 on their own 36, quarterback Bernard Jackson lines up in the shotgun, fakes a handoff to Hugh Charles, fakes a screen pass to Patrick Williams, and runs through the wide-open gap on the left side of the field. With only subpar FCS athletes in his way, Jackson goes into hyperdrive past the secondary on his way to a 64-touchdown run. MSU, down but not out, makes a field goal on back-to-back time-draining possessions. With three minutes left in the game and down by two, Hawkins and Jackson lead the Buffs to the opposing 40-yard line with only five seconds to go. Not ideal position for the game-winning kick, but all is well with Mason Crosby. The Leg of the Gods nails the 57-yard field goal as time expires. Disaster is averted and Hawkins escapes on the legs of Jackson and Crosby. That much will be a theme the rest of the season.
The Colorado State game goes about the same as it actually did. The difference is, once again, Crosby’s grandeur. Late in the third quarter, down 14-10, the Texan is iced on a 62-yard made field goal, but he’s too cool for the ice to affect him and he drills it again on his second try. (In real life, he missed the second attempt.) CSU, up by one, sees their next drive stall. CU now has the ball and proceeds to run down the clock with Bernard "Denard Robinson" Jackson. Similar to the MSU game, their drive only gets as far as the 35-yard-line with only seconds to go. By the power invested in Crosby, he nails the game-winner, the third consecutive year he won the Rocky Mountain Showdown.
Colorado wins four games the rest of the season. Those wins aren’t the hyper-realistic upsets of Oklahoma and Nebraska, but the should-wins against the likes of Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas and Iowa State. CU fittingly makes the Famous Potato Bowl and defeated Nevada. CU finishes 7-6, a solid record for a new coach in an elite conference.
Mason Crosby, who made five game-winning field goals on the season, breaks Roberto Aguayo’s accuracy records and takes home the Lou Groza. The Jacksonville Jaguars surprise everyone and draft him in the third round.
Meanwhile, Dan Hawkins betrays Chris Petersen and his former Boise State staff by recruiting and securing the commitment of an undersized but prolific quarterback named Kellen Moore. Rumor has it that Dan Hawkins was disappointed in Cody for choosing to major in Nordic Studies and wanted to recruit someone to replace his son. Cody then transfers to Eastern Washington where he will spend the next four years breaking records and hearts on BLOODTURF.
Hawkins turns his momentum into even more recruiting success. In addition to unexpectedly singing five-star running back Darrell Scott, Hawkins gets a pair of four-star prospects by the names of Dez Bryant and Rob Gronkowski. The future is Hawkins’ to lose.
You know what? 2007 was a pretty good season in retrospect. They finished 6-7 with a daunting schedule.
CU took care of business against CSU after Kevin Eberhart carried on Crosby’s legacy by tying the game with 13 seconds left and winning it in overtime. The Buffs also took care of Miami (OH), the only other easy game on their schedule, which was coincidentally the only win I attended until CU’s 2015 beatdown of Nicholls. Their other wins came in a massive home upset over No. 3 Oklahoma (take that, Jon Woods) (ed. note - RUDE), a convincing road win over Baylor, a close road win over Texas Tech, and a ridiculous 65-51 win over Nebraska. Their losses, all excusable, were at Arizona State, Florida State, at Kansas State, No. 15 Kansas (that Jayhawks team was eventually No. 1 in the country), at No. 9 Missouri (that Tigers team was eventually No. 1 in the country), at Iowa State, and in the Independence Bowl against Nick Saban’s Alabama. (Seriously, that schedule was insanely tough.)
In this alternate history in which Tyler Hansen is starting all year (Cody is playing on BLOODTURF and Moore is redshirting) and leads CU to all those same victories. The only difference is that he also turns close losses to Iowa State (originally a 31-28 loss) and Alabama (30-24) into close wins. CU finished 8-5 and appears to be on their way up. Hawkins’ job is as secure as possible.
Also in this alternative history, Jordon Dizon plays slightly better than he did in real life and instead of being merely a finalist for the Butkus Award, he wins it over James Laurinaitis and Dan Connor. When Draft Day comes, Dizon is picked 37th overall to the Atlanta Falcons (instead of Oklahoma’s Curtis Lofton, because take that, Jon Woods). Because he’s not on the 0-16 Detroit Lions and gets more playing time in Atlanta, he doesn’t blow out his knee in 2010. Dizon goes on to be a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl Champion before retiring in 2021 to live a quiet life knife-hunting wild boars.
Dan Hawkins’ third season gets off to a superb start with a blowout win over Colorado State. The momentum doesn’t carry over, however, as the Buffs lose a heartbreaker to Cody Hawkins and the Eastern Washington Eagles. Tyler Hansen and Cody Hawkins duel courageously for 55 minutes, combining for 657 passing yards and 9 touchdown. Nearing the end of the fourth quarter up only one point, Dan Hawkins bypasses defensive coaches Brian Cabral and Ron Collins and orders the defense to go into prevent pass coverage. The fans in the stands boo profusely as it appears the Buffs are purposely ceding yards. The Eagles predictably drive down the length of the field, exclusively gaining yards on passing plays. Cody passes for a 6-yard touchdown, which gives him six touchdowns and 372 passing yards, both school records.
The Buffs get the ball back with just over two minutes left and down by six points. The Buffs drive down to the 22 and face a 3-and-6 with only 26 seconds left with no timeouts. Everyone knows the Buffs will pass, but Hawkins calls a draw. It works! Darrell Scott scoots by the unsuspecting defense for a first down, then jukes a linebacker at the ten yard-line, then nearing the goal line, he attempts to hurdle a defensive back. Scott leap over the defender but a jarring hit from the safety not only stops Scott mid-flight, but forces a devastating fumble that the Eagles recover to effectively end the game.
With the worst loss of his coaching career against his son in suspect circumstances, media, fans and CU officials question Hawkins’ tactics and motivations. Scrutiny looms over Hawkins as people wonder aloud if he purposely ceded those yards to the Eagles so his son could break records. Even worse, people suspect he purposely lost the game so his son would get the credit and NFL attention for beating a top-flight program. Hawkins answers stirring questions with vague answers that seem to imply ulterior motives. Because there’s no concrete evidence against him, Hawkins keeps his job under a cloud of doubt.
The rest of the season is highly stressful but the performance is otherwise positive. Tyler Hansen emerges as a quality NFL prospect with the help of Dez Bryant and Darrell Scott having massive sophomore seasons. The dynamic trio coupled with a strong defense work together to upset No. 17 West Virginia, Texas A&M and No. 11 Oklahoma State. At 6-5, the Buffs have bowl eligibility wrapped up, but Hawkins believes he’ll be fired if he doesn’t knock off Nebraska in Lincoln. Alas, nothing can stop Ndamukong Suh and the Huskers roll.
The Buffs make a bowl game but are trashed by the Cal Golden Bears in the Emerald Bowl. Now with a losing record to his name, his Eastern Washington controversy can’t be glossed over by his unblemished history of success. Fortunately for Hawkins, Athletic Director Mike Bohn is easily convinced to give Hawkins one more year to prove his worth.
Tyler Hansen, the second team All-Big XII quarterback, leaves for the NFL Draft under the advice of Hawkins. Hansen falls further than expected and isn’t drafted until the sixth round to the Cowboys (Hawkins told him he’d go second round at the latest). In 2010, Dallas quarterback Tony Romo is injured and Hansen fills in. He unexpectedly dominates the competition and effectively replaces Romo similar to how Romo replaced Drew Bledsoe. Hansen is a Pro Bowler in the following two seasons before getting injured and effectively replaced by future NFL MVP Chase Daniel. Hansen hangs never fully recovers from his injury — a ruptured spleen — but is able to have 13-year-long career as a backup QB.
Meanwhile, Hawkins’ success on the recruiting trail is negatively affected by his scandal. Because he can’t just waltz into Texas and sign whomever he wants, he has to go a different route. He goes to the East Coast and convinces an athletic freak from New Jersey to quit baseball and play outside linebacker for the Buffs. Mike Trout agrees and comes to Boulder.
Before the start of the season, Dan Hawkins promised "ten wins, no excuses," but instead of articles like this, people shrugged and said, "Yeah, that seems reasonable."
Following up and surpassing that promise, 2009 is the best season of Hawkins’ Colorado career—until it isn’t. Kellen Moore is at QB, Darrell Scott and Rodney Stewart form the best backfield in the Big XII, Dez Bryant is magnificent alongside Scotty McKnight, and Rob Gronkowski Gronks all over the place. The offense scores over 40 points per game, twice scoring over 60. The defense, led by the incredible secondary quartet of Cha’Pelle Brown, Jalil Brown, Ray Polk and Jimmy Smith, allows only 15 points per game and pitch three shutouts.
The Buffs win their first four games in stunning fashion, including and especially on the road against West Virginia, a 52-16 shellacking. CU, now ranked No. 11 in the country, head to Austin to play No. 2 Texas. The game is ESPN Game of the Week and does not disappoint. Kellen Moore duels Colt McCoy to a standstill. That goes on until freshman Mike Trout gets a pick-six to take a 34-30 lead with only 3:23 left in the fourth quarter. McCoy, against all odds, leads a soul-crushing 83-yard drive and wins the game on an 11-yard scramble. The Longhorns are victorious and rise to No. 1, but everyone knows the Buffs are a legitimate title contender.
The Buffs proceed to win their next five games and reach No. 5 in the polls. Just before playing a crucial road game at No. 12 Oklahoma State, reports surface of unusual behavior by the one and only Dan Hawkins. Hawkins had always been known to be an eccentric man, but no one but a select few knew how peculiar he was. One of whom, apparently scared for his own well-being, anonymously informs the NCAA and the University of Colorado of Hawkins’ doings. He secretly recorded Hawkins performing occult to provide good fortune for his team and voodoo onto his opposition. Hawkins was filmed sacrificing the knee ligaments of then-unconscious linebacker Jon Major in order to beat Kansas State. The anonymous assistant also filmed Hawkins kidnap and drain the talent from Oklahoma State cornerback Perrish Cox in order to open up the passing game.
The University of Colorado decide that they must suspend Hawkins until the investigations prove his innocence or guilt. If innocent, he will keep his job under a watchful eye. If proven guilty, his job security would be the least of his worries.
Understandably, the Buffs play the Oklahoma State game severely distracted. Their play is uninspired to say the least and not even the brilliance of Dez Bryant can save them. (The rumor is that Bryant was secretly happy Hawkins was gone, as he suspected and feared Hawkins’ alleged insidious behavior.) Cowboys quarterback Zac Robinson is injured early, but future NFL MVP Brandon Weeden proves to be a substantial upgrade and leads the offense to a season-high 52 points.
Had the Buffs won, they would have likely catapulted into a top ranking with only Nebraska remaining before playing Big XII supremacy against the Longhorns in a game that would send the winner to the BCS National Championship. Instead, the Buffs fall to No. 13 in the polls and face the Huskers with the Big XII North on the line. Against Nebraska, interim head coach Brian Cabral is poised and confident, but Bo Pelini is too tactically sound to out-coach. Under Pelini’s motivation, Ndamukong Suh once again brutalizes the Buffs and leads Nebraska to a hard-fought win. The next week Suh single-handedly defeats Texas — he even blocks the game-winning field goal attempt — and goes on to win the Heisman.
Even after the Nebraska loss, Colorado is still a top-15 team and makes it to the Sun Bowl but are eviscerated by David Shaw’s Stanford Cardinal.
A few weeks after the season ends, the University of Colorado officially terminates the contract of Dan Hawkins after uncovering substantial evidence. Hawkins is charged and convicted of his crimes the following winter, but legendary Buffalo and Supreme Court Justice Byron White is raised from the dead (under suspicious behavior similar to Hawkins’ previous work) and overturns the conviction in a stunning Supreme Court Case.
Hawkins is reinstated by the NCAA, but no college football team will hire him. Hawkins then spends the next few months following the Grateful Dead with Bill Walton and emerges as a top candidate for the Arizona head coaching job. He is eventually hired over fellow occultist Sean Miller.
Fed up with the tumult within the program, Scott, Bryant and Gronkowski declare for the draft immediately after the season. Moore graduates with nearly every school passing record and is himself drafted. Trout, meanwhile, somehow convinces CU to start a baseball program and subsequently quits football to be the pitcher, catcher, centerfielder and manager of the newly founded Buffs baseball team. After winning the 2010 and 2011 Golden Spikes Awards, he’s drafted 2nd overall by the Seattle Mariners in the 2011 MLB Draft.
The departures of five All-Americans leaves only the trio of Rodney Stewart, Nate Solder and Jimmy Smith to return the Buffs to form. Returning to glory wouldn’t be too daunting of a challenge with that core, but it could only go as far as their coach would allow.
In late-January, AD Mike Bohn is unhappy that Brian Cabral couldn’t succeed in an impossible situation and proceeds to search for a replacement. After four days of interviews, Bohn hires Kansas City Chiefs tight ends coach Jon Embree to lead the program.