Dan Hawkins and the Power of Positive Thinking
A 12-step guide to understanding the University of Colorado's popular—and peculiar—head football coach.
4) Be Open to Supernatural Experiences
"I've had some very mystical, weird things happen in my life," Hawkins told me after practice one evening. We'd been talking about religion, about how he'd converted to Catholicism before marrying Misti, and how he goes to church most Sundays because it's a good thing to do as a family, and because the core lessons of his faith, "that it's not all about you, that it's not all about what you want," mirror the lessons he tries to teach his players.
My ears pricked up at the words "mystical" and "weird." When I asked him to elaborate, he did that cringing thing. He didn't answer, but a couple of days later he shared this story:
"So I'm at Willamette. This is no kidding. I had this dream that we were up in this mountain lake. It was really, really blue, I mean really blue. And we were trying to catch these marlin. And these big marlin were jumping that were really blue."
Marlin? The saltwater game fish?
"Yeah, marlin, in this mountain lake. And so I remember talking to my coaches at Willamette. I said, 'Man I had this dream. It was unbelievable how blue it was.' It really stuck out in my mind. And [one of the coaches] goes, 'That means something, Hawk. I don't know what that means, but that means something.'
"So then I had this gal who, she wasn't exactly homeless, but she was out there a little bit and living a tough life. And I used to spend some time with those people, not necessarily her, but when I'd go to the Willamette games I was always struck by how the stadium and the field was all fenced off from the park it was in, where she lived. They have all these people coming in [to the stadium] with smiles on their faces and joy, and outside the gates were these lost people, for lack of a better term. So I used to go to the park early. I'd give 'em each a hot dog and a Coke. It always struck me: joy and sadness right next to each other, side by side.
"But anyhow, so she actually brings me this gift basket. There was nothing new in there, just some things that she had found, but God bless her it was straight from the heart. And inside that basket was a little blue Boise State football that she had found. And not too long after that I get this phone call from Dirk Koetter, who had the head coach job at Boise."
Boise State plays on an artificial-turf field colored blue. Really, really blue.
5) Strive for Balance
"The number one priority in my life is my family, and always has been," Hawkins told me one morning in his office. "You go to some of these personal-development seminars and they have you write down how many hours a day you spend doing this and that, driving or watching TV or whatever. Everyone says they put family first, but it's always last on the list of what they spend their hours on. But I always say you have to be able to include that somewhere in there. Carve out time for a family. They've got to be in that pie somewhere."
Hawkins had told me he'd arrive at work that morning between 7:00 and 7:30. I hustled to get to the Dal Ward Center a few minutes before the hour, only to find his white GMC Yukon Denali already parked in his reserved spot. I put my hand on the hood: ice cold. I found him in his office, hunched over his laptop. He usually sits on a leather couch instead of at his desk, the computer resting on a glass coffee table. That morning, behind him and visible through picture windows, the rising sun bounced off the bleachers of Folsom Field. He'd been there for two hours already.
Balance. Hawkins said the word a hundred times in the weeks I hung around him. He tells his assistant coaches to go watch their kids play baseball or soccer, that if they miss a piano recital they have only themselves to blame. On his blog he wrote about a trip to Red Rocks with his wife to see ABBA during football season. "I can say I'm not much of an ABBA guy, but my wife is. You stay married for 25 years by making sacrifices for each other," he wrote. "Life, marriage, or football—it's all the same."
For as much as Hawkins talks about balance, it doesn't seem to come to him naturally. He describes himself as "a football monk." After taking the Colorado job in 2006, he arrived from Boise months before the rest of his family. Until they moved down, he slept in his office, showering in the locker room. The first time I met Misti I told her I'd just spent the whole day with her husband. "Oh lucky you," she said sarcastically. "I wish I could spend a whole day with him."
At the midpoint of his first season at CU, the Buffs, who had lost five straight games, hosted the Baylor Bears, who also held a losing record. Several members of Hawkins' extended family traveled to Boulder to attend the game, and to stay at the Hawkins' house in Lafayette. Colorado lost to Baylor by one field goal, in triple overtime. By midnight Hawkins still hadn't come home. Misti recalled their text message exchange:
"Where are you?" she wrote.
"At the office."
"What are you doing?"
"I'm trying to get this thing fixed."
When Misti woke up the next morning, Hawkins still wasn't home. It was the first night he'd spent at the office since they were married.
"Where are you?" she texted, again.
"At the office."
"OK. I'm on my way."
"Oh no, don't come down here."
Misti didn't text him back. Fifteen minutes later, outside the Dal Ward Center, she pounded on the locked front door. Another text:
"Come open the door for me."
What Misti said to him when he opened the door was not said in anger, she recalls. Soon after that morning, she remodeled their basement, hanging football memorabilia on the walls, installing a flat-screen TV, and asking the tech guys from CU to wire the video system Hawkins uses on campus so he could study game film at home. She wants him to be able to do his work. But she insists he do it at their house.
"Don't ever, ever do that again," she said when he unlocked the Dal Ward front door. "I understand that you feel bad, but don't ever not come home."