Dan Hawkins (no, not this guy) might be in for the most unusual job transition in the football world this year. Herb Zurkowsky of The Montreal Gazette reported Thursday that the Alouettes have settled on Hawkins as their new head coach to replace Marc Trestman (now the Chicago Bears' head coach). What's notable is that Hawkins' previous job wasn't as a CFL assistant, an NCAA coach or an NFL coach; instead, he was working as a NCAA TV analyst with ESPN. Hawkins has notable past coaching success, particularly with his 2001-2005 run as the head coach of Boise State, but he's been working with ESPN since he was fired as Colorado's head coach in 2010. He certainly has shown impressive coaching ability in the past, but his coaching tenures have been marred with notable failures as well, and now he'll have to not only get back into a coaching mindset but do so in a completely different league that he's never played or coached in. Hiring Hawkins is a big gamble for the Alouettes, but it's one that could potentially pay off.
In Hawkins' favour, what he accomplished with Boise State is worth plenty of plaudits. Under Hawkins, the Broncos won four Western Athletic Conference titles in five seasons and went 53-11 overall, a remarkable .828 winning percentage. Hawkins built on the foundation established by Dirk Koetter (currently the Atlanta Falcons' offensive coordinator) and set up the program for the run of glory it's since found under Chris Petersen. In a little over a decade, Boise State's gone from almost a complete unknown to a team that can negotiate its own sweetheart deal over television rights. Petersen should probably get most of the credit there, as he's elevated the Broncos to a new level, but what Hawkins and Koetter did to set the team up for that success is notable as well. If this was 2005, Hawkins would be an incredibly hot coaching commodity, and one who would never wind up in the CFL.
It's what's happened since then that makes Hawkins more controversial, though, and explains why he's headed to Canada instead of grabbing another NCAA job. Hawkins left Boise State for bigger-name Colorado, but was unable to repeat his success there, going 19-39 overall and just 10-27 in the Big 12. His Buffaloes teams only went to a single bowl in his five years (the 2007 Independence Bowl), and they lost it. When Hawkins was fired after a 3-6 start to the 2010 season (and less than a week after his team suffered the biggest collapse in the 121-year history of Colorado football, allowing Kansas to score 35 points in 11 minutes and pick up a 52-45 win), the Buffaloes paid him $2 million to go away. It was seen as "rock bottom" for the program, which still hasn't come close to recovering.
Hawkins' Colorado tenure was certainly notable, though. He started it off by losing to Montana State, he predicted a 10-win season (in 2009, a year where the team would win three games), he kept his son as the team's starting quarterback (despite occasionally trying to replace him), and perhaps most famously, he went on a "Go play intramurals, brother!" rant when a parent sent him an anonymous letter complaining about the team starting summer conditioning earlier than normal:
His announcing career has been marked by interesting moments, too, including saying that catching a ball is what a college player is "paid to do":
Could the Hawkins hire work out? Absolutely. Keep in mind that Trestman wasn't that different when Alouettes' GM Jim Popp hired him in 2008; he had no CFL experience and had bounced around from the pros to college, and his greatest success had been five years before he came to Canada. Moreover, Trestman had never been a head coach before the CFL: Hawkins at least has that experience going for him. The CFL game is a very different one, though, and it will take Hawkins time to adapt to it; it's also going to take him time to get back into the rhythm of coaching rather than TV work. If he can recapture his Boise State success, then this could work out very well, and Popp will get full credit for this bold decision. If not, Hawkins' next job might just be coaching intramurals.