Saturday September 12th, 2009

TOLEDO, Ohio -- Dan Hawkins walked dazed from his locker room early Saturday morning and looked around. "Where's the media room?" the fourth-year Colorado coach asked.

In the MAC, visiting teams aren't guaranteed media rooms like they are in the Big 12, so Hawkins had to flay open the carcass of the worst loss of his tenure beneath a blazing Glass Bowl scoreboard that read Toledo 54, Colorado 38. Hawkins got the predictable questions. At 0-2, what can you do to rebound? Is the team still behind you? He gave the predictable answers. He and his staff will re-evaluate. They'll try to find the answers. No one will quit.

About 30 minutes later, Colorado athletics director Mike Bohn stood on the field. Those damning numbers, 54 and 38, still showed on the scoreboard. "We're frustrated," Bohn said. "Dan's frustrated. And our fans are frustrated as well."

That they are. At halftime, when Toledo led 23-3, the proprietors of the Ralphie Report blog opened a "2nd Half Suicide Hotline Thread" to allow fans to vent their frustration. Over at BuffStampede.com, one thread was titled only with Bohn's e-mail address, presumably so fans could e-mail and call for Hawkins' firing.

After the half, it only got worse. Toledo went up 30-3. Then, about two minutes after the Buffs scored to slice the deficitad to 37-24, Toledo quarterback Aaron Opelt blew through Colorado's defense for a 61-yard touchdown run. Five minutes and one interception later, DaJuane Collins blasted through the Buffs for a 23-yard score.

After the bloodletting, Hawkins said it's easy to be a critic. "That's living," he said. "It's being in the fire. You can stand on the periphery and judge, or you can stand in the middle and scrap." But those who give up half-a-hundred in Glass Bowls should expect stones to get thrown.

For his part, Bohn preached staying the course. "We're trying to re-establish the foundation for our program," he said. "We all recognize we're not there yet. We're not happy with this and our fans aren't happy with it. Again, it's where we are."

Bohn said the stain of Gary Barnett's scandal-plagued tenure lingered longer than the Buffs let on, especially when they were knocking off Oklahoma in Hawkins' second year. He reminded everyone that Colorado legend Bill McCartney, the original Promise Keeper, started 0-4 in his fourth season. Like this one, that season began with a home loss to Colorado State. The Buffs would win their next five games, including an upset of No. 3 Nebraska. Four years after that, Colorado claimed a share of the national title.

The difference is in the scores. After a 23-7 loss to the Rams in 1986, the Buffs lost to Oregon by two, to Ohio State by three and to No. 10 Arizona by 3. They did not get completely outclassed by a MAC team.

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, a man who has never been shy to fire a coach who doesn't win championships, adheres to a simple philosophy: What must be done eventually should be done immediately. The last time his football program floundered, he fired Ron Zook the moment he knew the situation would not improve. That allowed him to be the first to court Urban Meyer, who most would agree has had a fair tenure in Gainesville.

Though his public stance suggests he disagrees, Bohn may want to consider adopting Foley's philosophy.

It's only going to get worse. Toledo -- a team picked to finish fourth in the MAC west division -- looked faster at almost every position than the Buffaloes. Colorado tailback Darrell Scott, who racked up 289 all-purpose yards despite no discernible role in the offense in the second half, clearly was the best athlete on the field. It seemed the Rockets ranked No. 2 through No. 23. That speaks to Hawkins' recruiting. Nebraska has Big 12-quality players. So do Missouri and Kansas. Judging by their first two games, the Buffaloes would have trouble competing in the Mountain West and the MAC.

In 2008, Opelt rushed for minus-44 yards. Friday, he rushed for 109, including the 61-yarder and a 21-yard touchdown. The Rockets rolled up 624 yards. They averaged 9.5 yards -- 18 inches shy of a first down -- every time they snapped the football. Even first-year Toledo coach Tim Beckman, whose Oklahoma State defense held the Buffs to 17 points in a win last year in Boulder, seemed a bit surprised that his players looked so athletically superior to Colorado's.

So maybe it's time. Hawkins, by all accounts, is a good man. He teaches his players the right things. His body of work -- remember, he is the one who built Boise State into a power -- suggests he is an excellent coach. But maybe this particular job was the wrong fit. If Bohn acts soon, he can begin the work of finding the man who can help Colorado climb out of its hole. He also would allow Hawkins to begin rebuilding his reputation.

The most memorable moment of Hawkins' tenure remains his 2007 offseason rant about the Buffs playing "DIVISION I FOOTBALL!" Back then, Hawkins was suggesting the culture of the program needed to change, that players needed to get tougher and work harder. That's not the problem, though. Colorado doesn't need tougher players. Cody Hawkins, the coach's son and quarterback, proved that early Saturday morning when he scored a touchdown despite being knocked senseless by a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit.

The harsh reality is that Colorado needs better players. If Opelt can throw for 319 yards and four touchdowns, how many will Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing compile? What about Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson? Oh, and by the by, Texas' Colt McCoy will warm up for the Red River Rivalry against the Buffaloes in Austin on Oct. 10.

As he tried to digest the loss, Colorado receiver Scotty McKnight said the players stand firmly behind Hawkins. They believe he can help them turn around this season. But a look down the schedule suggests otherwise. The Buffs face Wyoming next week. Given the events of this week, that isn't a gimme. Then, after an open date, they face West Virginia in Morgantown on Oct. 1. Then it's at Texas, followed by a visit from Kansas. "You can go one of two ways here," McKnight said. "You can look at it like we lost two games to teams we technically should have beaten. But we've worked way too hard to look at it that way. We haven't even started league play."

And that might be the scariest part.

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