CanesTime.com: Were you originally from South Florida?
Bill Hawkins: Yes, I'm a native Floridian. I attended South Broward High School in Hollywood, FL. I was recruited by Howard Schnellenberger. He came into my house and said (in mock Howard voice) "Bill, I promise you I'll be at Miami next year." At the time, I was pretty hot to go to the University of Florida, but they had a guy there, Charlie Pell, who just did not know how to keep a straight system. By the end of the season, after watching a little bit of UM play and being there for the first national title, I was completely committed to them and went there. Of course, Howard didn't last, he was gone about a week after he told me he'd be there, but they hired Jimmy and we had a lot of success.
CanesTime.com: I have to tell you, that was a really good Howard Schnellenberger impersonation.
BH: Yea, Howard's a nice guy, a real nice guy. A lot of his coaches are still around.
CanesTime.com: Is it true that the players didn't necessarily warm up to Jimmy Johnson during his first season?
BH: That's absolutely correct. Everybody went from being coached by Howard, who took them pretty much from nothing to national dominance and prominence, something that no one had ever experienced, to Jimmy. Howard left, but the majority of the team was loyal to him. Then Jimmy came in and he didn't really make too many waves the first year, but it became apparent that there was an internal struggle and that he had decided to stamp his way of doing things on the program. Some said that Jimmy would never make it, but obviously Jimmy had other plans. I respect both of them.
CanesTime.com: Individually, when did you really break out? You redshirted in 1985 and played from ‘86-'89. When did you know you were going to be good?
BH: I think my first spring practice I came out and I started doing some things and doing really well. The guy that was ahead of me at my position was a guy named Kevin Fagan. He was sort of an idol of mine because he was super big, super fast, and super strong. He played the position very well and went on to have a good pro career. It was nice to have him as a model teaching me things and showing me "that's how you make a play on the ball" or "that's how you make a tackle." I started for three years. My first year of actually playing was just ‘ok.' I don't know. There was something about the group of guys, at least during my tenure there, where we all challenged each other and adopted a sort of family mentality. Back then, nobody liked us. The press hated us, and that was great. We didn't care because we just rallied together and came together as a team. We were all on the same page. Me personally, I think I really began to shine when we lost to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. You can say what you want about that game, but it inspired me. Usually after the season, I'd take a month off or so, but that game inspired me to get better. I remember as we were losing the game, we were playing defense and were absolutely stomping them. I remember that Winston Moss told all of us "Never let them take your heart," and it stuck with me. I started running immediately after that game, which wasn't normal. The following year, we went undefeated and really started doing things.
CanesTime.com: You mention the media. I don't want to get to into it because it's been beaten to death. The things that have happened the last year…
BH (laughing): You mean about Lamar [Thomas]?
CanesTime.com: Well yea. Him, the brawl, the unfortunate Bryan Pata murder. You've probably been exposed to the commentary given by the national media about how Miami is "Thug U." What's your opinion on how the media treats Miami? Do you think there's a bias?
BH: I think there will always be a bias because Miami had incredible success in not just football, but many sports, which was unprecedented for a small private school. There is a tension between us and the media. Whether or not it's warranted, I don't know. I just ask that people take a look at themselves and ask whether or not they did anything that they shouldn't have when they were 18 to 22 years old. I don't think anyone can truthfully answer that question if they are saying that they were an angel. I think that sometimes the press takes something and just runs with it. I understand that they have to sell papers, and I understand the business aspect of it all, but I don't think it really matters. There's a bond down there and its not going to be broken because of press, especially with Randy [Shannon] down there. And yea, there's unfortunate incidents. The brawl, that wasn't right…but I've been involved in many a brawl. On the field, in practice, whatever. There are some things you shouldn't do. I don't know that there's anything wrong with the program itself or if there's any lack of control institutionally. You've got young kids that are excited to play, and that's what it boils down to.
CanesTime.com: They are excited to play now. Have you been to a practice yet and have you kept in touch with the program? A lot of guys come back to watch practice and mentor the kids.
BH: Yes, definitely. A lot earlier, but I started having kids. You're too young to have kids, but when you have kids your priorities change. Especially when you have young kids, your priorities change. In recent years, I haven't remained as in touch as I want to be. I usually make about three games a year. I had three kids back to back to back, which really put a damper on it, but I expect to resume going back down there as soon as I can. I still talk to a lot of my former teammates though. Craig Erickson is a good buddy of mine. I still talk to Steve Walsh every now and again, and Mike [Irvin]. There are a lot of guys that I still keep in touch with. It goes back to that bond. We laid it on the line for each other and you just don't forget that. It never goes away.
CanesTime.com: Do you think that bond is more pronounced at Miami than at other schools?
BH: I don't know, I can only talk about the experience I've had at Miami. The best way I can get to describing it was when I was in high school. At the beginning of the year I cared when Florida beat Miami because I was going to Florida. By the end of the year, I went to Miami. I remember talking to my dad my freshman year at Miami when we beat Auburn and shut down Bo Jackson. I told my dad, "Dad, there's magic here." He replied "Yea, yea there is." I still believe that. There's magic. It's something intangible that I don't think its present in other programs. You've had some really good programs here recently. USC for example has had just a dominant team, but when you're talking about UM, you're talking about a team that can be down 30 points and come back and win. You can just never count them out. Right when you start, they'll rise up and stomp you. There's a sense of a bond that I think a lot of teams would love to figure out.
CanesTime.com: Last season must have been tough to watch, then. Not a lot of coming back.
BH: Yea, it breaks my heart seeing the team struggling. What kills me and hurts bad is when they gave up. That never used to be the case. We'd have guys running crazy before we gave up. It goes back to that saying Winston Moss said in the defensive huddle. Never let them take your heart. We didn't and we kept bringing it. It hurts. It hurts a lot. But I know that with Randy, Randy understands it. Randy has lived it. He's grown up in it because he's been there so long. I mean he's been there long, but he's also seen other things too. He was with the Dolphins and they gave him a fresh perspective. I have no doubt that he's going to bring that spirit back.
CanesTime.com: Back to Randy in a second, but I have to ask you this. What do you think was wrong last season?
BH: Well, you have a couple things that were wrong. First off, in Coker's first year…let me actually say that I like Coker…but when he was having success, he didn't discipline his players. Winslow, for example, was a talented guy, but he would screw up. You need to smack them around a little bit. Let me give you an example. I got benched by Jimmy because I missed one day of contact practice during the week before the Missouri game. The reason why I missed the practice is because the trainers removed my great toenail. I was in pain! I could barely run. Well, all he did was bench me for the first drive, so I didn't get to start. I wanted to get in there so bad, when he let me in, I killed them. I got the game ball and won national defensive player of the week awards. The reason why I tell you that is to give you some insight into the contrast between the two styles. I didn't see that kind of stuff under Coker. I mean, he initially had great success, but let's face it. He didn't really have an offense since Chud left. I think the playcalling was a little uninspired. They became like the Gators of old: predictable. They seemingly ran the same stupid play again and again and it just wouldn't work. You need a balanced attack. If you have trouble passing deep, do some quick outs or whatever. The defense was always strong, but the offense just needed to be more productive.
CanesTime.com: What is difficult for you as a defensive players seeing such dominant defenses and sputtering offenses?
BH: Well you have to understand that there's a cycle there too. When I played at the University of Miami we had a great offense and the defense would sometimes struggle. But we'd have that balance. When one struggled, the other would pick it up. But recently it's gotten so unbalanced and poor that it's difficult. That defense to their credit just keeps fighting. That's wonderful. I'm not taking anything away from the guys on the field, offense or defense. They are doing the best they can, but if your quarterback is getting put on his butt five or six times in the first quarter, you need to change something. Don't have an offensive set where there's no one back to block people. Do something different. Run a screen, run a draw. You know, something different.
CanesTime.com: Does recruiting have anything to do with it? Some people say the talent is down. Are you one of those people?
BH: Recruiting is an art form. There's no science there. How do you go and analyze a high school kid. He could be decent and not have blossomed yet, or the other way around. I honestly believe that the coaching change, especially on the offensive side of the ball, was definitely needed.
Stay tuned for part 2 in the Bill Hawkins Interview Series.