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Scianitti: Hawkins friendly, determined at Alouettes camp

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Matthew Scianitti
6/8/2013 12:23:58 PM
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SHERBROOKE, Que. - Meet Dan Hawkins - he's loud and friendly.

"Ma fee ahh aushway!" he shouts happily following the fourth day of Montreal Alouettes training camp. It's some kind of French, and the man from Idaho would've bellowed it as loud on any corner along Rue Sainte-Catherine if he could.

"Accouchée," says Alouettes communications director Charles Rooke, quietly.

"Accouchée!" Hawkins says quickly. "OK, I'm getting there, I'm trying to work on it"

A long time ago, Vince Lombardi said: "Confidence is contagious, so is lack of confidence."

Hawkins is not like the austere, granite-faced Green Bay Packers head coach. He has a bright, oval face, and ostensibly two expressions: smiling and smiling wider. And he hasn't won two Super Bowls.

"Ma...fille... a...accouchée" Hawkins says slowly, acting as if he can't hear Rooke take him gently through each syllable. "Yeah, I'm a grandpa. I had another grandchild today.

"Big news of the day."

What you need to know, less than a week into his professional and CFL head coaching career, is that Dan Hawkins is an uncomplicated man, who shares Lombardi's fondness for uncomplicated creeds.

"Quit trying to win, just be a winner," is what Hawkins is telling the Alouettes — his team — now.

Montreal general manager Jim Popp has always recruited from unconventional places. Hawkins helped make Boise State relevant in NCAA football a decade ago, then wasn't as successful at Colorado State. His record as a college head coach is 112-61-1.

His record as a professional head coach is 0-0-0.

That number will be scrutinized far more intensely than Anthony Calvillo's age — he'll be 41 in August — because Marc Trestman refined NFL quarterbacks — Bernie Kosar, Jake Plummer and Rich Gannon — before leading the Alouettes to back-to-back Grey Cups. He's parlayed those accomplishments into the top job with the Chicago Bears.

The last few years Hawkins worked as a college football analyst for ESPN. So, what has he learned halfway through his first week as a professional head coach?

"You're a professional, right?" Hawkins says, narrowing his eyes, but without a hint of agitation. "So would your boss or your supervisor treat you any different — I would hope not — if you were an intern or you were getting paid?

"I mean, these coaches are professional, so I'm coaching coaches as well. You're always picking things up. I think the biggest thing — for me and these guys — you certainly know things about [players] on film, but all I told them is 'all we know is what we know.'"

That sounds like coach-speak — all cleverly tied words. Don't talk about leading, coach, just lead. And in the middle of the central Quebec countryside — something off J. E. H. MacDonald's easel — Hawkins breaks the green calmness with a bit of West Coast volume.

"Here we go, here we go, here we go!" he shouts as he runs here and there. The sound cuts through the wind and rolls over the hills. Blink and the man in the red cap is behind the quarterbacks near the far end zone. Blink again, he's there pacing around the running backs. Blink, there he is, this time between the tackles before a special teams drill.

He shouts and moves his arms, and his players follow. Give this man the football.

It is the kind of energy Edmonton head coach Kavis Reed has too, but it has been sharpened over nearly 20 years in the CFL. Conversely, if Hawkins's energy and passion is undressed and transparent; he just wants his players to reveal the same.

"Until you see a guy play and perform consistently out here and do it, you build that trust of 'Yeah OK, you're that player' and see him turn it on and turn it off successfully," the coach says. "Then you're going OK he is that player...and you do the same thing in college really."

One of the few times Hawkins stands still is when scuffles flare. Rookie defensive back Michael Parker takes exception to a tackle from slotback Jamel Richardson, and all fall silent as the two broad men curse and grab at one another. They are separated quickly, but the intensity bubbles over. Teammates sneer and hoot at each other. Bodies slam together, harder and harder. Running back Brandon Whitaker says someone pulled him from behind during a scrimmage, sticking his right knee in the turf, irritating the scar tissue of his surgically repaired right knee.

"I know it is a long season, and I told the guys, 'I'm not stupid, I'm really not, and you can't do this everyday, you can't. It is ludicrous,' Hawkins says. "'But when we go, we have to be able to go,' that is what I asked of them, and they did it. I think nothing good happens without passion."

"He just loves what he is doing and you love playing for a guy like that," Whitaker says. "He is the boss."

Hawkins has to be. Decisions in September and October are hard to prepare for in June, but there is one challenge that might be unavoidable: What if there comes a situation where he has to pull Calvillo – still, and forevermore, the most important Alouette — out of a game, because...

"Because, what?" Hawkins asks.

Fill in the blank.

"[Calvillo] is going to be smart with us, whether it is his play or his body or the plays or the people and all that kind of thing. Who knows? Maybe he'll again outlast another coach."

Maybe...but Hawkins is not a promise-maker, not a dreamer, not a planner; he's apparently climbed mountains, ran with bulls, swam with sharks. The tangible is what matters. Consecutive home playoff defeats over the last two seasons, and perhaps an increasing reliance on a thoroughly prepared playbook, have diminished some of aura of dominance that has emanated from the Alouettes for over a decade.

Remember: "Quit trying to win, just be a winner." In the opening nights of training camp, Hawkins showed Calvillo and other players footage of 11-team NBA Champion Bill Russell.

"You say, 'OK quit trying to win, just be a winner,' Well who are the winners? What do they do? You can study the losers as well because you can learn from them, but what do the great ones [do]? That is why I don't read a lot of fiction, because I'm trying to go: What did [an actual person] do? And what can I learn from him? And what can I pass on to the guys? To me, that is how I put together that whole game plan."

Maybe what the Alouettes need now is a man of action. The rookie pro learning drill to drill, too, running around the field, missing only his own pads and cleats. If he had a tether in his hand, he would've pulled 80-odd, massive men with him.

"I don't know the exact word to put for it, but it is definitely exciting," says Whitaker. "When we sit in meetings we get excited. We see the ball going down the field, the runs...it is just little details that we've got to continue to work on."

It's infectious isn't it? "It definitely is, and it rubs off on everybody. Everybody is excited about it."

Dan Hawkins (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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