On Halloween night, 2003, a month after Arizona began its search to replace John Mackovic, I flew to Salt Lake City, drove an hour south to Provo and watched Boise State beat up BYU 50-12.
My own little search committee of one had decided that Broncos coach Dan Hawkins would be the right man to restore Arizona's football program.
Before spending about $1,000 of this newspaper's money in an attempt to gauge Hawkins' interest in the Arizona coaching vacancy, I asked former UA associate athletic director Chris Del Conte if it would be time well spent.
"Who wouldn't want Dan Hawkins?" he said. "He's on everybody's list."
I took that as a yes.
It wasn't difficult to get an audience with Hawkins that night. Even though Boise State was en route to a 13-1 season, I was one of just three people waiting outside the Broncos' locker room.
One was the beat writer from the Idaho Statesman, the other was a functionary from the BYU sports information staff. When I introduced myself, Hawkins interrupted.
"So you're here on a coaching search story," he accurately guessed, chuckling. "What do you want to hear?"
I asked if he could picture himself coaching in the Pac-10.
"I don't think small," Hawkins said. "How's that?"
Dan Hawkins was an impressive dude.
For the next three weeks, I thought Arizona would pursue Hawkins. How could it not? He was the anti-Mackovic: engaging, young, innovative and with no scars. He was absolutely the rising star in college football coaching.
It wasn't until I visited Lubbock, Texas, a few days before Thanksgiving, watching Mike Stoops help the Oklahoma Sooners thump Texas Tech to complete a 12-0 regular season, that I knew Arizona would not hire Dan Hawkins.
"Maybe we'll see you in Tucson," Stoops said as he walked to the press box for a post-game radio show (at OU, even assistant coaches have radio gigs). "That's a good job."
The deal was already done. Stoops would coach Arizona. Hawkins would stay at Boise State for two more years, 53-11 overall, then accept a small fortune to coach the Colorado Buffaloes.
At that time, Stoops was 6-16 at Arizona. I remember thinking the UA had goofed, at Mackovic levels, by not doing everything in its power to get Hawkins away from Boise State in the fall of 2003.
On Tuesday, Colorado fired Dan Hawkins. He was 19-39. He lost to Montana State and Toledo. He lost games 70-3 and 58-0.
"There is too much negativity," Hawkins told reporters.
Since the day Hawkins was hired at Colorado, Stoops is 34-25. The only negativity here is that the Wildcats have jacked up expectations so high, too high perhaps, that losing to what appears to be the best Stanford team of the last 40 years has created community-wide fear.
You want grounds for grousing? Colorado is on a five-game losing streak in which it has been outscored 178-104.
The Wildcats have come so far that a few days after being clobbered 42-17 at Stanford, they are ranked No. 18 in the AP poll. Saturday's game is a virtual sellout. They are favored by a handful of points over USC, which, even in its current, NCAA-punished form, is virtually unthinkable.
Cherish it. This may be as good as it gets at Arizona in 2010.
I think it's entirely possible that Arizona will lose its remaining games, 0-3, which would include a season-crushing loss to the Sun Devils. I think this club has seen its best days this season, and if Stoops can coach Arizona to even one more victory this year, it would be remarkable.
Arizona's secondary has been shot full of holes, sometimes embarrassingly so.
The Wildcats have almost no offensive maneuverability anymore. Tailback Nicolas Grigsby and receivers Bug Wright and Richard Morrison have essentially been unable to play in recent weeks. The club's only remaining playmaker, Juron Criner, is hobbling on borrowed time with a seriously sore/injured foot/ankle/toe.
And just when the UA discovered that Matt Scott might be the quarterback to take it to a higher level, he wrecked his right wrist. Simultaneously, the all-senior offensive line has become vulnerable and often ineffective.
"We've moved past big wins, and we've moved past tough losses," Stoops said Monday. "It's difficult to go through an entire season without having some issues."
It's one thing to have an issue with a team that is 7-2, beat up, ranked No. 18 and bowl eligible. It's another to fire your coach because of "too much negativity."
A physically messed up Arizona football team is in a tough spot, but it could be worse. It could have hired Dan Hawkins.
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org