Gundy, Hawkins on different paths
BY DAVE SITTLER World Sports Writer
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
11/17/09 at 12:15 PM
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MIKE GUNDY is a coach of the year candidate, and Dan Hawkins could be a dead coach walking.
Raise your hand if you saw that scenario coming in December 2005.
Yet that will be the setting when soaring Oklahoma State (8-2, 5-1 Big 12) hosts beleaguered Colorado (3-7, 2-4) in a moved-to-Thursday-for-television contest at Boone Pickens Stadium.
Four years ago, after Gundy went 4-7 and 1-7 in his first season as OSU's coach, many wondered if the administration had been blinded by the favorite-son status of the former Pokes' quarterback, hiring Gundy before he was ready for the job.
"I'm not sure if I would have hired myself back then," Gundy said a few days ago about the misplaced confidence he had his rookie season about handling the steep learning curve.
While some OSU officials were having second thoughts about Gundy, people in the Rocky Mountain area thought Colorado hit the mother lode when it enticed Hawkins to leave Boise State to rebuild a badly damaged CU program.
Sports Illustrated called CU's selection "an inspired hire." The Sporting News labeled Hawkins "one of the game's best offensive minds and motivators."
The personable Hawkins even got caught up in the lovefest at his introductory press conference when he told CU fans he was ready to "throw a little 'Hawk Love' out there, and let's get going."
Now fast forward to the scene for Thursday's 6:30 p.m. contest on ESPN.
"Hawk" isn't feeling much love these days from CU supporters. He enters the contest against the No. 12 Pokes with combined records of 16-31 overall and 10-20 in the Big 12 with two games left in what many believe will be his fourth and final season in Boulder.
Nobody denied that Hawkins faced a daunting rebuilding effort when he was lured away from Boise State. He was replacing Gary Barnett, who departed in disgrace after an investigation revealed his football program had used drugs, alcohol and sex to entice potential recruits to sign with the Buffaloes.
After vowing to give Hawkins all the time he needed after his first team finished 2-10, the patience is reportedly wearing thin in influential circulation. Speculation is that CU alums with deep pockets are willing to help a cash-strapped athletic department buy out Hawkins' contract, which reportedly could cost nearly $3 million.
Hawkins' critics are convinced the program has regressed. Those rumblings started after a humbling season-opening 54-38 loss at Toledo and have continued to escalate.
Former OSU defensive coordinator Tim Beckman, in his first season as Toledo's head coach, told reporters after the game that he was surprised by CU's lack of athleticism. That's a condemning assessment of a coach who was supposed to be an excellent recruiter.
Other than a nervous laugh, Hawkins didn't seem concerned when asked during Monday's Big 12 coaches teleconference if he thinks he's trouble with AD Mike Bohn and chancellor Phil DiStefano.
"No, not at all," Hawkins said. "They've been awesome.
"Everybody wants to win more games. But in terms of helping get this place back on track after what it went through, I think we've had to take on a number of tasks and have done a great job with that."
His critics believe Hawkins is whistling past the graveyard with his persistent optimism. They're convinced his fate was sealed with last Saturday's 17-10 loss at Iowa State, which means Hawkins is the first football coach in CU history to start his career with four losing seasons.
Hawkins didn't help himself when he stubbornly continued to start his son at quarterback as the losses mounted up. He eventually benched junior Cody Hawkins in favor of sophomore Tyler Hansen.
Gundy, meanwhile, has continued to make steady improvement. His conference record has improved every season, and he has an outside shot at leading OSU to its first BCS bowl bid if the Cowboys can close out with wins over CU and at Oklahoma on Nov. 28.
He should be a strong candidate for Big 12 Coach of the Year for the way he's held his team together despite a myriad of problems, including missing two of his best players for most of the season because of injuries and suspension.
Conventional wisdom is that Kansas State's Bill Snyder is a cinch for the coaching honor if the Wildcats (6-5, 4-3) win Saturday at Nebraska to clinch the Big 12 North Division title. But if K-State loses, it won't even be bowl eligible because it can only count one of its two wins against I-AA teams.
Awards or not, Gundy knows he'll be back at OSU in 2010, while Hawkins awaits his fate at CU.
If you raised your hand to indicate you saw that role reversal coming four years ago, you're either psychic or have selective memory.