The well-traveled Dan Hawkins, in his 38th year as a football coach at some level, is equipped to handle the challenges brought on by a one-of-a-kind season.
The UC Davis alumnus, back in his native California for Year 4 as Aggies boss, recognizes “the world is spinning faster and faster, and change comes even faster than it did before.”
Hawkins isn’t short on experience “reinventing” and “readapting” his methods.
“Life has changed so much, society’s changed so much and football really has changed so much,” continued Hawkins, who’s become somewhat known for philosophical insights and his genuinely inquiring nature.
“I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been a number of places ... so I’ve kinda been used to (change).”
A coronavirus-shortened spring season just presents another adjustment.
Hawkins has coached at the high school level, for a junior college, in the NAIA, and with the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes. He guided the U.S. National team, which at one point in 2015 played four games in 10 days.
Hawkins had stints at the helm of teams in Sweden and Austria too, fitting given his diverse travel log — it includes trips to Machu Picchu, a Buddhist temple in Cambodia, the ancient Camino de Santiago pilgrim road in France/Spain, and the base camp at Mount Everest.
But he’s known mostly around here for lighting a fire under Boise State’s program in the early 2000s, compiling a 53-11 record through five years and setting the stones for a successful future before taking charge at Colorado for five seasons.
Hawkins was hired by UC Davis in late 2016 for his first collegiate head coaching gig since he was let go by the Buffaloes in 2010.
“You get to reinvent yourself, and not just jump on and play the same song,” the former two-time Western Athletic Conference coach of the year said.
“You’ve gotta figure out how to pull it off, but that’s what makes it fun.”
When UC Davis opens its season Saturday at Idaho in the Kibbie Dome, it’ll be Hawkins’ first time coaching a game in Moscow since Sept. 13, 2003, a 24-10 Bronco win against the Vandals in a WAC contest.
Hawkins’ Aggies popped visiting Idaho 44-21 in 2018. UC Davis went on to win a share of the Big Sky title that season and earn its first-ever berth to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. Hawkins was named the FCS coach of the year, but the Aggies slipped to a 5-7 record last season.
The life of a football coach is fundamentally different than it was a year-and-a-half ago, but Hawkins’ intellectual approach, highlighted by positive reinforcement and goal-setting wrapped in conceptual teachings, translated well to the Zoom screen and smaller group work.
Under California COVID-19 protocols, the Aggies were split into 25-person practices, so they focused more on “individualized” on-field lessons.
“You really think about the benefit of electronic media, and how you could better present that to people in a more eye-pleasing and learnable strategy than you normally do, when you’d get in a meeting and drone on,” he said. “You have to put on a bit of a show. If not, you’re gonna lose a little bit of your audience.
“We’ve learned some better ways to practice, some better ways to train, and we’ve talked about that: ‘Let’s embrace the lessons we might get out of this, and not just say this isn’t how it used to be.’”
Behind their veteran coach, the Aggies are eager to return to the FCS spotlight. Hawkins said this team has the knowledge and potential to make some noise.
Since he was hired, the vibe around the UC Davis program has changed. The football expectations have grown at a school best known for being an educational notable on the world stage.
“They feel like we should win, we ought to win,” Hawkins said.
The Aggies have a new defensive coordinator in Matt Coombs, a Yale graduate who last served as a defensive analyst under now-BSU coach Andy Avalos at Oregon.
“He understands the school/football balance, and that players want to be engineers, doctors, or whatever,” Hawkins said. “He understands the formula. He’s been around people that taught and thought like I do in terms of the game.”
Hawkins’ son, Cody — who attended Bishop Kelly in Boise, then CU — was promoted to offensive coordinator in January.
The Aggies are replacing a three-year starter at quarterback in Jake Maier, a former conference offensive MVP. They’ll bring four signal-callers to Moscow, but Dan Hawkins said the starter will be a surprise.
Third-year standout Ulonzo Gilliam returns at running back for a fast-moving offense that might conjure up memories of Hawkins’ high-scoring Broncos attack from the early-to-mid 2000s.
Only “in some respects,” though, considering all Hawkins’ coaching stops and reinventing done in the past 15 years.
Hawkins on Idaho
The former eight-year BSU coach (three years as offensive coordinator, five as the head man) doesn’t get the rivalry itch, as he might have from 1998-2005. Instead, “I think about going to Idaho more like: ‘Going home,’ “ he said.
He maintained a residence in Boise until he was hired by UC Davis. The son of a logger and raised in a rural area, Hawkins is fond of the scenic Gem State.
On the Vandals, he noted: “I don’t totally look at it like (a personal rival). I’ve always respected them, and I’ve forged a relationship with (UI coach) Paul (Petrino).”
Hawkins is 8-1 overall against the Vandals, his one loss coming in Boise during his first year as the Broncos’ OC.
According to UC Davis’ athletic website, Hawkins plans to some day summit Mount Kilimanjaro, visit the gorillas of East Africa and sail the Atlantic as a crew member.
Hawkins hosted a podcast called “Uncommon Engineering” during the offseason. Interview subjects included Holocaust survivor Alexander Groth, astronaut Steve Robinson, professional athletes/coaches and outdoor expeditionists. The podcast is available on YouTube.
Clark may be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.