UC Davis’ head football coach vowed to make it through his introductory press conference without crying. He made it about 60 seconds.
Between tearful remembrances of his time as an Aggie and bear hugs with his former coaches, Dan Hawkins ’84 was introduced to the community and members of the media this morning (Nov. 29) at Aggie Stadium.
“I've always said this place was my baptism of excellence,” Hawkins said, fighting back tears. “It showed a little guy from a town of 500 people (Bieber, Lassen County, California) what you truly can accomplish and really what life is about.”
Hawkins, who played for and later worked as an assistant coach for legendary head coach Jim Sochor, has worked as an ESPN college football analyst in recent seasons. He’s also coached for Boise State, the University of Colorado, and teams in Canada, Austria and elsewhere.
Interim Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter said it was a good day to be an Aggie.
“I have no doubt that coach Hawkins will reinvigorate our students, our campus and our community with Aggie Pride and remind us of what we can accomplish,” Hexter said.
Hawkins said he’s grown a lot from the time when he left UC Davis for his first head coaching job at Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento, a time when he joked he was pretty sure he invented football.
“I'm my best me right now,” he said. “Best as a person, best as a father, best as a husband, best as a football coach. It's the right place, it's the right time, it's the right fit.”
He stressed a desire to meld athletics and academics, saying success in one area can lift the other. At Boise State, he said, he participated in a business school study of creativity, and at the University of Colorado, he used his station as a coach to highlight professors doing interesting research.
Director of Athletics Kevin Blue praised Hawkins’ support of academics.
“Dan Hawkins demonstrates an uncommon intellectual curiosity and shares our earnest commitment to the scholar-athlete ideal,” Blue said.
Hawkins said he hopes Aggie success in football will raise the profile of the university among prospective faculty and students. He said despite being ranked No. 1 in the world for subjects like veterinary medicine, friends erroneously congratulated him for joining the UC Davis “Mustangs” or “Cal-Davis.”
5 questions for the new coach
Hawkins met with Dateline UC Davis and other members of the media for a question-and-answer session following Tuesday morning’s news conference. The following transcript has been edited for space.
What has the welcome been like?
Great. … I think it's a collision of values and principles, and timing of what they need and what I need and what we both bring to each other that makes it that way.
How do you see your role off the field?
The modern day coach — you cannot be in a silo. You have to engage faculty, stakeholders, students in a meaningful way as I gave a couple examples. (So) that they know you're not mutually exclusive, that they know you're not (only) concerned about your own well-being. That you do genuinely care about what happens on campus and the success of everybody on campus. And I think once they see that in a genuine and an actual way, they kinda get it. … (At Boise State) I got calls from deans on campus that got applications from outstanding faculty internationally that knew nothing about Boise until they saw Boise State on the field, and then the creativity and things we did — that made them feel like it was a creative place. So that's the role that you play and everybody has to understand that. I need them to help recruit the best and brightest students if you're a physics teacher if you're a chemistry teacher. We need their engagement (and) involvement to attract students to work together. To understand sometimes business gets the grant, sometimes physics gets the grant, sometimes football gets the grant.
How do you balance the academics and the athletics?
Well, I think it's being sensitive to that, whether it's a guy's class schedule or his major, or working with him and understanding his course load. … At the same time, it's back and forth. You can't use the academics as an excuse and you can't use the football as an excuse. You have to say, "Hey, we understand that academics are a priority, we're going to work within that. But let's understand that this football thing is a priority, too — let's bring this stuff up together." I played with Mike Shaw — how do you graduate No. 1 in nuclear physics from UC Davis and play football? You can do it.
Six losing seasons: How do you turn it around?
I talked to the team about that. I think it's easy when people stand here on press day and talk about, "Oh yeah, we're fired up, we're going there." This has happened before in my career. When you say, "Hey, you want to win a national championship," some people misconstrue that, like: "Oh, we're going 10-0 next year." But like I told the team last night, we're going to do things in a national championship fashion. There are things that the science of football demands. Those are metrics and analytics we need to look at and determine, why are we not as good on third down as we should be? What is the functionality of that? We need to have a starting point.
What did you learn working for Coach Sochor?
He was very influential in many ways. His whole eastern philosophy thing — hey, when you're coming from Bieber, things like Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching, you're going, "What did you just say?" He understood the essence of true competition and true execution and the opponent was always yourself. When I came here, you're used to saying, "Oh, we're playing X, Y, Z. We gotta get geared up, this is a big game, we gotta get ready. You gotta play your best." There was none of that. It was always maximizing you, competing against you. Getting your best self to play on Saturday. And it was never about the opponent. And that was different for me. And I had good coaches, but that was way different for me. And I appreciated that. ... With Soch, we were never talking about winning and losing — it was talking about playing better within the science of football. How do we block this better? How do we execute this better? How do we pick this up? How do we see this? ... It was a magical, transformational experience being here, and then coaching with Sochor, (and Bob) Foster, was the same way. And I love it when you're out in the world and people say — and they always say it like this: “Oh, you're a Davis guy.” They know. “Oh, you're a Davis guy.” They say it with reverence, they say it with respect because they know, “OK, yeah, this cat — he's different.” It's just how we process the world.