Colorado football coach Dan Hawkins is starting to sound like a man with the same sense of urgency about the results his team produces on the field as the fans and media who have been so critical of him.
"It's time to cinch it up a little bit," he said this morning during a phone interview with the Camera.
University leaders, including President Bruce Benson, Chancellor Phil DiStefano and athletic director Mike Bohn, have said this season will be a pivotal one for Hawkins. That trio decided last November to give Hawkins one more year to prove himself after a 3-9 season and plenty of acrimony among the fan base.
The Buffs begin Hawkins' fifth fall camp in Boulder in three weeks and probably need to produce the first winning season in Hawkins' five-year tenure for the coach to keep his job.
It's a pressure-packed situation Hawkins hasn't faced much at the outset of previous seasons in his career. But he said it's really no more pressure than he already puts on himself.
"I told someone the other day, I mean, I used to eat Maalox like it was M&Ms when I was a high school coach," he said. "You're driven by your own standards and motivations. That's what keeps you going in any walk of life.
"You never sit back and go, 'Yeah, well OK. It looks like everything is OK. So let's not try to get better.' I've always felt the same. It didn't matter if we were 13-0 or whatever."
Hawkins wasn't comfortable identifying a specific number of wins his team must produce this year, but he left no doubt he has a deep desire to prove he can turn the program around and reward those supporters who have stuck by him.
"That's why we do what we do," Hawkins said. "That's why you challenge yourself. That's why you take over a program and that's why you change venues to try to figure out the puzzle and get back on top."
Hawkins will have his most experienced team during his tenure this season with 54 lettermen returning, 15 starters and 48 seniors and juniors in the post-spring depth chart. He believes it bodes well for the coming campaign despite the schedule being tougher this season than last.
The coach's mantra with his team throughout the off-season has been encouraging players and assistant coaches to work each day on improving by three plays a game this year. Hawkins believes his team was just a handful of plays away from winning in most of its losses last year.
"I think for us, being able to go through all the stuff that we've gone through, you need to be able to learn from that and take some emotional energy into whatever it is you do," Hawkins said. "You take that experience and kind of go, 'All right, I've been to this stadium. I've seen that team. I've played. I've done this. I've done that. It's time to cinch it up a little bit.'
"I think that's certainly a progression we need to take. Any great pursuit is driven by some passion and some experience that comes from a variety of places. You realize how close you are but yet how far you are away and how much effort it takes to close that gap."