Dave Reardon Press Box

Dave Reardon

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

WAC’s best: Energizer
or Steady Freddy

THE Western Athletic Conference is a league of underdogs. That's one reason the coach of the most improved football team generally wins the coach of the year award, as selected by his peers.

So Mike Price of Texas-El Paso will probably get the honor this year, since he's shown the sad-sack Miners the daylight. UTEP is undoubtedly headed for a bowl game after improving to 6-2, including three road WAC wins, after two victories each of the past three seasons under Gary Nord.

Last year it was another first-year coach, Tulsa's Steve Kragthorpe. He took the Golden Hurricane to an 8-5 mark and the school's first bowl game in 12 years one season after a 1-11 posting with Keith Burns at the eye of the storm.

Where does this phenomenon leave a guy like Dan Hawkins of Boise State? His Broncos have won the WAC championship two years in a row, and a third league title is all but a given. And BSU has won 19 games in a row, the longest winning streak in the nation. With Fresno State's el foldo, Hawaii's road woes and Tulsa's regression, only BSU and UTEP -- which combined to outscore the Warriors 120-23 -- give the WAC any measure of credibility.

But back to the question at hand. Who should be the coach of the year? The pick-wielding energizer or the Steady Freddy on the blue turf?

Jimmie Trammel, Golden Hurricane beat writer for the Tulsa World, took an early poll yesterday. Of course, none of the voter/coaches shared his choice, but the comments are interesting anyway.

Rice's Ken Hatfield was WAC Coach of the Year at Air Force in 1983 and Southwest Conference Coach of the Year in 1988 at Arkansas. His 1991 Clemson squad won the ACC crown, but Hatfield was not recognized as the top coach. Virginia's George Welsh took the honor that year.

"That's human nature, that just happens. Everybody can identify with the underdog more than the New York Yankees syndrome," said Hatfield, who is president of the American Football Coaches Association. "But coaches who do a good enough job, there are enough awards to go around. Justifiable coaches will get recognized in some fashion. I don't think you can take anything away from what Dan's done over the long course. And Mike's done a terrific job."

Said Kragthorpe: "Sometimes a guy who wins year-after-year-after-year doesn't get the attention he deserves.

"One thing you do have to look at is it's tough to sustain success. Dan's done a great job keeping his team focused. ... That's one of the toughest things to do with that age group, that 18-23 demographic piece of the pie. To keep them from thinking they're a little bit better than they are or hearing things that detract from their preparation for that next game."

Hawkins' response was predictable and commendable:

"I don't worry about that at all. We were fortunate to win (the award) one year, it's a staff and a program thing. I don't put a lot of stock in it for me," said the 2002 WAC Coach of the Year.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Dave Reardon is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter who covers University of Hawaii football and other topics. His column appears periodically. E-mail him at dreardon@starbulletin.com



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