At the end of the Buffs` 65-51 triumph over the Cornhuskers at Folsom Field two years ago, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins trotted to midfield to shake hands with former Nebraska coach Bill Callahan, who was under heavy fire from Nebraska fans for running a foundering program.
The Cornhuskers had just missed a bowl game for the second time in four seasons under Callahan. The coach who came to Lincoln, Neb., after taking the Oakland Raiders to the Super Bowl had produced a winning record, but it was just 27-22 over four seasons and some of those losses included lopsided embarrassments.
Hawkins whispered in Callahan`s ear during that brief postgame conversation before heading off to the home team locker room to celebrate a win over a rival and the first and only bowl berth he has guided the Buffs to in four seasons.
"I have a lot of respect for him, and what he has had to endure and go through," Hawkins said of Callahan that day in his postgame press conference. "He has handled this tough situation with class. His starting quarterback goes down, and they gave Kansas a run, and got all over Kansas State. That is an extremely tough situation, and despite it all he showed a lot of class and resolve and saw it through. No matter what happens, I respect him, and he is a good guy and a good coach."
Callahan was fired the next day by Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne and eventually replaced with Bo Pelini.
That snowy day might have been the peak of Hawkins` popularity in Boulder. He signed a top-15 ranked recruiting class a few months later and was given a contract extension a few months after that.
There have been plenty of rough days since. Hawkins has coached the team to an 8-16 record since, including a loss to Alabama in the bowl game that season.
The Buffs are 3-8 heading to Friday`s game in Boulder and Hawkins finds himself in hot water from Colorado fans dissatisfied with his performance. Meanwhile, Pelini has led the Huskers to the Big 12 North Division title, before even playing CU, and their second consecutive postseason appearance.
No one, except perhaps athletic director Mike Bohn, knows whether Hawkins will continue to coach the Buffs beyond Friday. Hawkins briefly addressed speculation about his job with his team during a team meeting after a loss at Oklahoma State last week.
"He has just told us, 'You will know when I know,'" junior defensive end Marquez Herrod said.
The Buffs practiced Sunday afternoon, but Hawkins did not stop to speak with members of the media afterward. He is scheduled to have his weekly press conference this morning. The Buffs will practice in midafternoon and will do their final pregame interviews afterward.
In the week leading up to the CU-Nebraska game in 2007, Hawkins found himself talking about the fragile nature of the coaching business. He was asked about Michigan coach Lloyd Carr announcing his retirement that week. Carr was under fire from Michigan fans at the time, despite having led the program to a national title during his tenure.
Some of Hawkins thoughts about Carr and Callahan might be circling through his head this week about his situation at CU.
"It is interesting, he obviously made the announcement this morning, you guys know this in this day and age with the media sea," Hawkins said. "It is going to be harder and harder to have the Bobby Bowdens, the Joe Paternos, the Bo Schembechlers. It is just going to get harder and harder for that to happen.
"Coach (Eddie) Crowder was telling me how, it may have been in the middle of (former Oklahoma head coach) Bud Wilkinson`s tenure, they had a couple of off years where they had two wins and you think that in this day and age he`d be out, they`d run him out. I think he (Carr) is a real classy guy, his heart is in the right place, he loves Michigan, he loves the kids and he had a great run and it is sad to see those guys go. I was listening to somebody interview (former Minnesota Viking) Alan Page the other night and they made a big deal about how he didn`t win a Super Bowl and I`m thinking 'How many Super Bowls did you win?` He was in four. That is the nature of it and that is kind of how it goes."
Farewell to Foster
CU outside linebackers coach Bob Foster will coach his final game with the Buffs on Friday.
Foster, a longtime mentor and friend to Hawkins and one of his former college coaches, agreed to join the staff late last spring when former offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich bolted for Oregon.
Foster will be replaced on the staff by Ashley Ambrose, who has been working as a defensive technical intern. The plan is for Ambrose to take over coaching wide receivers in the spring.
"I love the guy," defensive end Marquez Herrod said. "He has great character, great energy. He`s out here every day just pumping us up. He makes me feel like a good player. I love that guy."
CU officials reported about 2,500 tickets remain for Friday`s game.