Colorado coach Dan Hawkins could be coaching the final road game of his tenure with the Buffs tonight on national television on ESPN at No. 12 Oklahoma State. Then again, it could just be the final road game of this season for him and his staff and players.
The result tonight will likely have a great deal to say in settling the confusion.
Hawkins insists he doesn`t believe he is coaching for his job in the final two games of this season and is merely continuing to plug away at building a program.
Athletic director Mike Bohn said this week there is no timeline for making a decision about whether Hawkins will continue as CU`s coach in 2010.
It is an odd situation to say the least, and one that suggests Bohn hasn`t yet made up his mind about the appropriate way to proceed. While some of his peers across the country already have pulled the trigger on coaching changes with their programs, Bohn appears to be waiting for the final two games to be played hoping the results point him in the right direction.
Players said they have tried to tune out the speculation about their coaches` job security. Wide receiver Scotty McKnight said he doesn`t believe the team is playing to save anyone`s job because approaching the final two games that way would be a mistake.
"I couldn`t imagine having to play with that kind of pressure and having to think, 'Oh, I`ve got to do this or my coach is going to get this,"` he said. "That`s not something that I think would make me play better if I was having to worry about any outside stuff. I just worry about the game plan, make sure I`m healthy and play my best."
The Buffs are 3-7 overall and 2-4 in the Big 12 Conference. They have been eliminated from postseason play for the third time in Hawkins` four seasons and are assured of their fourth consecutive losing record.
The team has won five of its last 19 games and only one of those victories came in convincing fashion. The other four were decided in the final two minutes and two came down to the CU defense making a win-saving play on the final play. Meanwhile, 11 of the 14 losses have been by double-digit margins.
Those results stand in contrast to lofty expectations at the start of the season, one which began with Hawkins` challenge to his players to win 10 games lingering in the air above Folsom Field. The schedule was supposed to be easier, the team was supposed to be older, wiser, bigger, stronger, faster and better.
When asked this week about what reasonable expectations for the Colorado program should be year in and year out, Hawkins admitted some will want the Buffs ranked in the top 25 and playing for conference championships annually. He didn`t say whether those expectations are realistic but he said he can appreciate them because he always has high expectations himself. His 10-win challenge is a testament to that.
"I`m a shoot-for-the-moon guy," Hawkins said. "Always have been, always will be."
He did acknowledge the CU coach -- whether it is him, former coach Gary Barnett or someone else in the future -- has faced and will continue to face some unique challenges not on the minds of many other major college coaches around the country.
The CU program continues to play catch-up in facilities and dona-tions. State law does not allow the program to award multi-year contracts to assistant coaches, creating insecurity and scaring some away. The talent pool instate is thin during good years, meaning most recruiting trips require a trip to the airport. A school that paid nearly 40 percent of the athletic department tab in 1990 when the program won a national title, doesn`t even pick up 10 percent of the tab these days.
Perhaps the biggest hurdles come in trying to recruit high-level talent on the field and also high-level talent in the classroom. Unlike many of its peers, CU doesn`t have general studies programs. It doesn`t accept physical education credits for junior college transfers and it does not accept 'D`s earned by junior college prospects in classes. The list goes on and on.
"We`re not in a situation where it`s throw out magic dust," Hawkins said. "We`ve got to build it in a different sort of a way, where we get the kid who wants the academic zeal, who is looking for a place like Colorado and wants to be a program with our values."
Hawkins confronts another challenging issue tonight in the form of his schedule. This is the third time this season the Buffs are playing with a short week to prepare and to recover from the previous week`s game. CU will have played five games on days other than Saturday when the season is done. The schedule was put together that way to maximize television revenue, one area where the program tries to make up ground on its peers.
The Buffs are playing for the second time this year on four days` rest. It`s a difficult position in which to be when you`re fighting for your job and your players are trying to break a road-losing streak spanning more than two years.
The Buffs have a 10-game losing streak in true road games, dating back to October of 2007. They have a 12-game losing streak outside the state of Colorado in that same time. The program has won only twice in true road games in four seasons under Hawkins and has a 2-18 record on the road since the start of the Hawkins` era.
The good news on that front, however, is that both of Hawkins` road wins at Colorado have come against Big 12 Conference South Division teams. The Buffs traveled to Baylor and Texas Tech and won in 2007.
For the second consecutive week, the Buffs will be facing an emotional opponent celebrating senior day on its home field. Oklahoma State (8-2, 5-1) has more than a happy send off for its seniors for which to play. The Cowboys still harbor legitimate hopes for a Bowl Championship Series bowl game if they can finish the season with 10 victories.
Needing two wins to finish the regular season might be all these teams have in common tonight.