In another life, Dan Hawkins could be a preacher.
But Hawkins is a football lifer, and the former coach at Boise State and Colorado was introduced Tuesday morning as the new head coach at UC Davis during a press conference that at times seemed like an old-fashioned revival meeting.
Hawkins, returning to where his coaching career began, offered a loud, mesmerizing, upbeat and sometimes humorous and self-deprecating message to a captivated audience that included media and longtime alumni at Aggie Stadium.
Among them included many who coached with or mentored Hawkins during his time as a player and assistant coach at UCD, including former Aggie head coaches Bob Foster and Bob Biggs.
“I’ve always said this place was my baptism of excellence,” Hawkins said as he took several seconds to compose himself at one point. “It showed a little guy from a town of 500 people (Bieber, 55 miles northwest of Susanville) what you truly can accomplish. It’s really what life is about. The quality balance of life, it all started here. Everywhere I’ve went, I’ve tried to echo that same experience.”
Hawkins, who received a five-year contract for a base salary of $262,500 per year, returns the college ranks as head coach for the first time since 2010. He replaces Ron Gould, who was fired Nov. 21 after four years as Aggies coach.
Hawkins, 56, was a fullback on the 1982 UCD team that reached the NCAA Division II championship game before becoming an assistant coach to his mentor, the late Jim Sochor, from 1983 to 1985.
“I think Dan is a great fit for us right now,” said Biggs, a member of the 12-member committee that provided Blue with input on his coaching search. “We are so appreciative of coach Gould and the foundation he has laid. Now that the decision has been made, Dan is at the point in his career where he can take all his knowledge and bring it to Davis and generate some excitement. So I think it’s wonderful.”
Hawkins and UC Davis athletic director Kevin Blue, who flew Monday to Boise, Idaho, to seal the deal, said it was a whirlwind courtship.
“I’ll tell you one thing, when this thing went down, I had a lot of people going, ‘Are you interested?’ ” Hawkins said. “I said, ‘I’m interested.’ But guess what? My clock’s ticking and this has to happen fast, and it did. It basically happened from Wednesday to Sunday.”
Hawkins, who had accepted the job as the offensive coordinator at Florida International earlier this month, credited Blue and acting chancellor Ralph J. Hexter for making him change his mind about moving across the country.
“The chancellor realized the situation and gave Kevin the green light and the attorneys worked with him,” said Hawkins, adding a dash of humor. “It’s the first time I ever negotiated a contract with an athletic director on the phone. No agent. No attorney. Man to man, working with each other. It was pretty fun…It worked out good, didn’t it Kevin? Fair. I was trying to keep the score on some of the stuff.”
Blue said he interviewed several other candidates, but would not offer a specific number or any other details except to say he believes UCD has the right man for the job.
“Coach Hawkins represents exactly what we need,” Blue said. “He’s an Aggie. He understands the tradition and history of this place. Most importantly, he is a very progressive thinker and has a lot contemporary beliefs about the game. So he’s a great fit for what we need to continue to re-energize our football program.”
Hawkins met Monday night with the players, and said he plans to meet individually with the UCD coaching staff.
“I told the team last night I don’t have anything set right now,” Hawkins said. “It’s always kind of cool if you’ve got this group of 10 (assistants) who are going to want to move here tomorrow. But that’s not really appropriate and probably not realistic. So I hope that we can (retain) some of the guys who are here and attract some of the brightest from around the country.”
He said his experience as a studio analyst for ESPN in 2011 and 2012 will help him attempt to return UCD to the prominence it enjoyed in Division II.
“I got my Ph’d in football,” Hawkins said. “When you work for those folks, you get everybody’s film. So you are watching, you are studying...I’m doing research.”
Hawkins is best remembered for his tenure at Boise State, which he lead to national prominence from 2001 to 2005. The Broncos went 53-11 overall under Hawkins, 37-3 in the Western Athletic Conference and appeared in four bowl games during his tenure.
But Hawkins couldn’t match that success at Colorado, where he was 19-39 overall and 10-27 in the Big 12 Conference in five seasons before being fired in 2010.
Hawkins coached Montreal briefly in the Canadian Football League, coached the United State National American football team, which is composed of former college players, and was offensive coordinator for a pro team in Austria since he last coached in college.
“There’s been some misfires, and there’s been some direct hits,” Hawkins said.