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Colorado Buffaloes head football coach Dan Hawkins likely won’t be making any bold predictions any time soon.
The last time Hawkins did so, his proverbial arrow failed to even scrape the target.
Rewind to December 2008 when the coach challenged his team with a “10 wins and no excuses” pitch.
Buffs fans and the media scratched their heads, and now they are scratching even harder.
CU failed to nab one-third of those 10 victories, putting to rest on Nov. 27 a dismal 3-9 campaign in which it closed on a three-game losing streak. The Buffs, whom many believed would make some noise in the Big 12 Conference, were second-to-last in the North division as they hobbled to the finish line at 2-6 in league play.
“Clearly, this has been one of those soul-searching years, and I’ve had a few of those,” Hawkins said Tuesday during a press luncheon at the Dal Ward Athletic Center. “It’s been a trying year for fans, players, coaches, parents and everybody.”
Hawkins, who is 16-33 in four years at CU, called the 2009 season “humbling.”
“I think you try to look yourself in the mirror and figure out what you’re doing well, what you’re doing bad, what you have to improve on and keep plugging forward,” Hawkins said.
Despite a never-ending storm of media speculation swirling about his job security, Hawkins — whose contract expires Jan. 31, 2013 — will remain in Boulder for at least one more year. The official decision was announced Thanksgiving Day by CU athletic director Mike Bohn.
Hawkins said constantly living in the media spotlight, especially as of late, has been challenging for him and his family.
“Living in this world where your whole life is exposed to TV every night and Internet every day, it’s interesting. It really is,” Hawkins said. “I’m trying so hard to be everything to everybody. I’m trying so hard to say all the right things. I’m trying so hard to do all the right things.”
Most would agree Hawkins is indeed trying, but the dearth of check marks in the win column have fans growing uneasy.
While he didn’t toss out a specific number, Hawkins said beating CU’s rivals — the Colorado State Rams and the Nebraska Cornhuskers — and winning a bowl game, none of which were accomplished in 2009, are “baseline” goals.
CU’s stunning 23-17 loss to the Rams on Sept. 6 to kick off the season may have crippled the Buffs beyond healing, sophomore quarterback Tyler Hansen said. Hansen called the defeat “really huge.”
“To play in front of your home crowd the first game of the year and go down in defeat, it takes a big toll on you,” Hansen said. “That game is used to build confidence for the rest of the year, and to lose that game the way we did, it wasn’t good. [CSU] came in here on a real high and wanted to get us real bad. I think if we win that game, we build some momentum and use the confidence to win a lot more games.”
Fans’ jaws dropped lower the following week when CU was shellacked 54-38 by the Toledo Rockets, members of the Mid-American Conference, in Ohio.
“Early in the season, things didn’t go the way we wanted them to,” Hansen said. “We came out of fall camp really confident, really thinking that things were going to go our way. Early, they really didn’t, and I think that just shot people’s hopes down and messed with the attitude of the team a little bit.”
While the Buffs managed to sprinkle a few wins into the mess, the damage had already been done.
“[The season] wasn’t what we expected,” said senior cornerback Cha’pelle Brown, who was tabbed by his teammates as the Buffs’ Most Valuable Player. “We thought we could win 10 games. Hawk said it and I believed it, but it didn’t work out that way.”
Dwelling on the past for too long, however, won’t get a team anywhere.
Hawkins’ first words as he began his speech were: “We’re a day into 2010.”
Hawkins said the Buffs need to improve on special teams — punting, punt returns and field goals — and correct the penalty and turnover margins.
Senior Matt DiLallo, who will not return next fall, averaged 38.6 yards per boot. Sophomore Jason Espinoza and junior Scotty McKnight averaged 3.1 and 4.6 yards per punt return, respectively. Junior Aric Goodman was 10-of-18 in the field goal department. CU turned the ball over on 31 occasions and was penalized 107 times for 907 yards.
“We have to do a lot of work there and clean that stuff up,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins also said the Buffs need to refine their rush offense and rush defense. Both the offensive and defensive lines will return intact, which should make CU more competitive in the trenches.
The Buffs were 11th in the Big 12 in rush offense at 87.9 yards per game (113th in the nation) and ninth in rush defense at 161.2 per game (79th in the nation).
“Those are things we just have to continue to cinch up, and that’s all on me and our staff, and I’m very well aware of that,” Hawkins said. “I think there are some things we can do during winter conditioning to help us get ready to go, and then emphasizing those same things in spring ball.”
The 2010 Buffs will feature nine returning offensive starters and seven returning defensive starters. Hawkins will be without the services of tight ends Patrick Devenny and Riar Geer on offense. Defensively, he will lose Brown and fellow cornerback Benjamin Burney as well as linebackers Marcus Burton and Jeff Smart.
With the bad comes the good. Hawkins said his staff has hit the recruiting trail hard — particularly in California and Texas — and he’s impressed with a few players already in the boat.
“Everybody’s out on the road and I’ll probably get out next week,” Hawkins said. “You try to figure out whether you should be on the front end or the back end. The head coach only gets one time to go to a school, slash game, slash see a kid, so you try to be pretty strategic.”
Asked what he would tell potential recruits who are on the fence about coming to CU, Hansen said, “Our coaching staff is awesome. Every one of those guys is great. We’re always playing one of those key games. We’re always on TV. We’re always in the spotlight. If you want to be a part of that, if you want to be a part of something special, then I’d say come to the University of Colorado.”
In the midst of finger pointing and displeasure, Hawkins said he will continue to do his best to restore a long-lost glory in Boulder.
“Guys, I’m trying to do the best job I can do,” Hawkins said. “This is a good place. I believe in it, I believe in our staff, I believe in me and I believe that everybody goes through rough water in some period of their life and time. We have a lot of things to fix, but I think we’re up to the task.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Alex K.W. Schultz at Alexander.firstname.lastname@example.org.