Sunday afternoon, a head coach of a struggling major-college football program was fired after suffering through a 3-9 season. Though a few of those losses were close, and others came to teams ranked in the national polls, that didn't matter.
The crowds were dwindling. The offense wasn't producing. The future did not look to be much different. So the coach had to go, because the university couldn't afford another disappointing year of waiting for a rebound. The contract buyout will be several million dollars, but nobody is complaining about that.
That certainly could have been, and many would insist should have been, Colorado ending its relationship with Dan Hawkins after his exasperating 3-9 season in 2009 — and after he boldly predicted a 10-win year.
It wasn't just one bad autumn for Hawkins, either. He's now 16-33 in four seasons at CU, which breaks down to 12-12 at home, 2-19 on the road, 2-2 at neutral sites, and just 10-22 inside the Big 12 Conference (8-12 in Boulder, 2-10 away).
Yet, Hawkins has been given one more year to prove himself at CU. And that other coach who went 3-9 this year, Al Groh at Virginia, is unemployed.
Groh wasn't a little-known outsider. He played college ball at Virginia, and he happens to own two Super Bowl rings from his time as an assistant for the New York Giants and New England Patriots (both working for Bill Parcells).
Groh also played an important role in Air Force's football evolution, serving as defensive coordinator for the Falcons in 1978-79, first under Parcells, then alongside Ken Hatfield. In fact, when Parcells bolted from Air Force after just one season in '78, athletic director Col. John Clune had a tough choice between Hatfield or Groh, the two coordinators.
Hatfield prevailed, but Groh showed consummate class in remaining for another transitional year, and Groh's recruiting helped lay the framework for Air Force's renaissance in the 1980s. He never forgot those experiences; we talked about them on more than one occasion.
After the Super Bowls, and one year as head coach of the New York Jets (9-7 in 2000), Groh was secure. Instead, he left the Jets for his alma mater, Virginia. Groh's teams played in five bowls, winning three. Just two years ago, in 2007, Virginia went 9-4 and played in the Gator Bowl. But it wasn't enough after 3-9 this year.
Meanwhile, across the country, Hawkins survives. He still hasn't had a winning season at Colorado. And now his fate appears tied to that of athletic director Mike Bohn, who could have started over again by letting Hawkins go and hiring another head coach, perhaps a CU alum like Dave Logan, or possibly someone like Skip Holtz of East Carolina or even, who knows, Mike Leach of Texas Tech.
We can only hope there's a mandate for Hawkins to make some staff changes, both offense and defense, bringing fresh imagination and, just as important, emotion. Week after week this fall, CU looked flat. There's also an anecdote from the season opener against Colorado State. After pregame warmups, the Buffaloes were fired up, bouncing off the walls inside the dressing room. In came Hawkins, who proceeded to make everyone calm down because this was "just another game," and the team's deflated mood carried on throughout that 23-17 loss to CSU.
Yes, Colorado was super-young this season. The offensive line will return intact, along with all the top guys at skilled positions except for tight end. The defense isn't so promising, yet another reason for Hawkins to look for a hotshot coordinator who might instigate a rapid turnaround.
The schedule next year will be challenging. It includes a September trip to California, followed by home games against resurgent Hawaii and Georgia. In conference play, the Buffs must go to Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. And there's always Colorado State, next Sept. 4 at Denver.
Look at that schedule today, and it's hard to imagine Colorado doing better than 4-8 or 5-7. If that's true, next December we'll be writing about how CU should have made its change in 2009. Meanwhile, watch what Virginia does to replace Groh.
Most likely, it'll be someone who could have been good for Colorado.
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