Commentary

Father and son is a special situation when it's also coach and QB

Updated: June 13, 2008, 10:13 PM ET
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

BOULDER, Colo. -- Dan Hawkins tells a story about his early days as a head coach at Willamette University, a Division III school in Oregon. He is on the sideline during a game, his team at one end of the field and his barely school-age sons Cody and Drew at the other end.

[+] EnlargeHawkins family
AP Photo/Ed AndrieskiWhen Dan Hawkins took the Colorado job, Cody (right) wasn't sure where he'd end up.

"You could see [them] out of the corner of the game film," Hawkins said, "…running across the field, during the play, chasing each other."

That is the life of a coaching father. He is focused on dozens of young men, the ones he spends 16-hour days leading and motivating, while his own flesh and blood flits about in the corner.

The corner not of his eye but of his game film.

Father's Day arrives on Sunday, which, in football terms, is a shame. June is the one month of the year college football coaches devote to their families. Father's Day would be more effective in October, say, when coaches are otherwise occupied.

The number of coaches who actually get to coach their sons is few. The number of sons who start for their dads is fewer still. And when the list consists of sons who start at quarterback for their dads, you can count them using hashmarks and not have enough for a first down.

Since the end of World War II, only nine sons have started at quarterback for their head-coaching dads in major college football. The Hawkinses, Dan and Cody, are the most recent duo to join this club. As a redshirt freshman in 2007, Cody Hawkins led the Buffaloes to six wins, four more than they had the year before, and a bowl bid.

It is just a matter of time before the Hawkinses are joined by the Dodges at North Texas. Quarterback Riley Dodge decommitted from Texas to play for his dad again. In 2006, Todd Dodge coached Southlake (Tex.) Carroll High to its fourth 5A title in five seasons, and Riley became the state 5A player of the year. After the 43-29 victory over Austin Westlake in the championship game, Todd Dodge said, "To hug my son and finally get to him after all the kids mobbing the field and everything, that was pretty special. Really, really special."

They saw that I was not playing because my dad is the coach. I am playing because I'm a hard worker.

--Colorado QB Cody Hawkins

The first son to play quarterback for his dad in the postwar era, Bob Blaik, grew up around the great Army teams of the 1940s. Army coach Red Blaik rarely played Bob in 1949, his sophomore season. In his autobiography, "You Have to Pay the Price," Red Blaik recalled "the special kind of pressure" that dogged him as head coach and father.

"At the Baseball Writers Dinner in New York the following winter, [Hall of Famer] Ty Cobb said to me, 'You have quite a son there. You make a mistake in not using him more.'

"Actually I was not leaning backward or forward with Bob," Red Blaik wrote. "There is nothing that will hurt a promising youngster more than pushing him too fast. In this respect, I handled Bob exactly as I would have handled any youngster of comparable potential."

In 1950, Bob Blaik led Army to an 8-0 record and a No. 2 ranking before the Black Knights lost, 14-2, to a Navy team that came into the game with a 2-6 record. In the summer of 1951, West Point expelled Bob Blaik, 36 other players and 90 cadets overall in a cheating scandal. His father defended the honor of all the expelled to his dying day.

Blaik would have done so even if his son hadn't been caught up in the scandal. The "special kind of pressure" exerts itself on father and son. Cody Hawkins inherited his father's font of positive energy. If a Boulder house pointed its solar panels toward Cody, it would stay warm through the harshest Rocky Mountain winter.

Yet for the first several months Cody Hawkins came on campus, he kept his mouth shut.

"I became a hermit," he said. "I was focused. I wanted my teammates to know that I worked. I try to discipline myself. I say 'Coach Hawk,' not 'My dad.' They are more interested in how much time you put in. They saw that I was not playing because my dad is the coach. I am playing because I'm a hard worker."

Cody proved what he set out to prove.

"It's a very awkward relationship, especially for a head coach to have [his son be] the starting quarterback, which, in most other places, is the face of your program," said Colorado All-Big 12 defensive tackle George Hypolite. "They do a great job of just being themselves. I think that's what it comes down to. Everyone wears different hats at different times. Sure they are father and son when they are off the field. When they are on the field, Cody is just like me."

Even today, two years in, Cody said he lives by his own set of rules. He doesn't hang out in his dad's office. He won't even go in there unless it's late in the day and, as he put it, "everyone else is gone."

Todd Dodge recalls his son's first two years in high school. It is not a good memory.

[+] EnlargeTodd Dodge
AP Photo/Matt SlocumTodd Dodge will have his son back under center when North Texas takes the field next year.

"I was really unfair to him," Todd said. "I treated him differently than my other quarterbacks. I was too hard on him, and I was probably too vocal toward him in practice."

In spring 2006, Todd went to a coaching clinic and ran into a mentor. Bill Bryant is a high school legend in Texas. He sent two sons to play for Texas, one of whom was a teammate of Dodge's.

"When you coach your son," Bryant told Dodge, "you're the two most important people in his life. You're the coach, and you're his father. Don't rob him of either one."

The advice changed Dodge's life.

"Boy, that really hit home," he said. "That was my philosophy the rest of the way. We were going to really enjoy the journey together."

There is one obvious advantage to being the coach's son. It's not the elimination of homesickness, although that's important. On top of the academic load dumped on freshmen, the coach's son doesn't have to learn the playbook. He already knows it.

"I've known this offense since I was in third grade," Riley Dodge said. "It's going to be a real easy transition for me."

The light went on later for Cody Hawkins. He loved baseball before football until he got to high school. But once football clicked in, well, you've seen teenage boys eat? That's what Cody was like around football. Dan Hawkins recalls being at Boise State, where he coached for eight years, the last five (2001-05) as head coach. He called a family meeting to discuss a couple of schools that had begun trying to lure him out of Idaho.

"It's pretty serious," Dan said, "life-changing, moving, changing schools. And I remember he had a piece of paper. And he's like, 'Dad, I really don't care, but can you show me how you guys do zone pass?'

Cody didn't let the possibility that he might be standing in Bronco Stadium on a Saturday slow him down.

"It was funny. We would run a play, and he would be right over there," Dan said, motioning as if he were swatting away a pest, which he was.

I don't want to say 'jealousy' kind of came into it, but seeing other guys being coached by my dad, that was kind of hard. I see what's coming, and I just want to be a part of it.

--North Texas QB Riley Dodge

"'What was that?'

"'What was that play?'

"'What's his read?'"

Dad would say, "I'll get you later."

Yet when Cody became a junior, and when Riley Dodge became a junior, their dads receded from their football lives in one important way. Judging by these two coaches, the first rule of recruiting your son is: Don't.

After Cody Hawkins went to the summer camps conducted by Bob Johnson, the quarterback guru who started the Elite 11, Johnson told Dan Hawkins, "You better stop recruiting all these other guys and walk down the hall and knock on your son's bedroom and beg him to play for you."

"Once I got calls from other coaches," Cody Hawkins said, "he started dropping hints a little bit. At the dinner table, he would say, "You'll get these home-cooked meals if you stay at home.'"

Cody laughed as he described it, which, according to his dad, is exactly how he meant it. Dan Hawkins dealt with his son's recruitment, and his climb up the depth chart, in exactly the same way. He recused himself. Hawkins didn't know whether his son would choose Colorado or the school Hawkins had left a few weeks earlier, Boise State, until signing day, when the Buffaloes' fax machine spit out a letter of intent with Cody Hawkins' signature on it.

Riley Dodge's letter of intent didn't glide through the fax. It is one of Todd Dodge's enduring regrets that he then left Southlake Carroll High for North Texas, denying himself the opportunity to coach Riley in his senior season. For a while, it looked as if they would never work together again.

When Texas coach Mack Brown offered him a scholarship in spring 2007, Riley accepted it. He had grown up rooting for the Longhorns, for whom his dad had played quarterback in the mid-1980s.

"The happiest day of my life," Riley recalled.

The days and weeks afterward? Not so much. He would leave Southlake and drive the 25 minutes to his dad's practice. Riley had grown up as a "field house rat," as his dad put it, but for the first time he could remember, he didn't enjoy watching practice.

"I don't want to say 'jealousy' kind of came into it," Riley said, "but seeing other guys being coached by my dad, that was kind of hard. I see what's coming, and I just want to be a part of it."

Riley spent weeks coming to grips with the idea that he wanted to play for his father. But that meant he would have to decommit from Texas. Going back on your word is not something Todd Dodge coached his players to do.

On the other hand, he had no idea how his son's gut had turned into a Cuisinart.

"I should have noticed he was hanging around up here a bunch," Todd said.

Finally, in early June, as Todd drove home, Riley called him and said they needed to talk.

The conversation, which took place out by the pool at the Dodge home, went like this.

"You're going to be a Division I football coach."

"Yeah."

"And I'm going to be a Division I football player."

"Yeah."

"You know, I'm never going to see you coach. That's important to me. You're never going to see me play, and I know that's important to you. Why don't we just do this thing together?"

Todd Dodge asked his son to sit on the decision for two weeks, even though, in their heart of hearts, they both knew it had already been made.

When Riley called Brown and Longhorns offensive coordinator Greg Davis, twice he heard the phone ring and hung up. Then he told them what he had decided.

"Coach Brown said if I had decommitted to go somewhere else, he'd probably have been upset," Riley said. "He said a son should play for his dad. That made me feel real good."

[+] EnlargeClint Brewster, Tim Brewster
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltAfter Clint Brewster switched his commitment to play for his father at Minnesota, he's not likely to see playing time any time soon.

Judging by the Dodges and the Hawkinses, it would appear that the only endings are happy ones. They are the exception. At least 13 quarterbacks have suited up for their dads and never started, or even played. The most recent is at Minnesota, where Clint Brewster switched his commitment in January 2007 from Illinois to Minnesota. After a year in which freshman Adam Weber gained more than 3,500 yards in total offense and accounted for 29 touchdowns, Clint Brewster's dream of playing for his dad is receding.

Tim Brewster comes from the just-spell-my-name-right school of public relations. Brewster, in his 18 months with the Gophers, has offered to open nearly every door in his program to the national media. Yet he refused several requests from ESPN.com to discuss his son for this story.

Last week, Brewster told the St. Paul Pioneer Press, "… Clint's going to have to make a decision. Does he stay at the University of Minnesota and just continue to compete, or does he look for where he may have a better opportunity, and go play?"

It's not hard to read the angst between those lines.

Todd Dodge is aware of the dangers. But as his son officially arrives on campus, the coach and father can't wait. Last season was a long one, and not just because the Mean Green went 2-10. For the first time in five years, Todd Dodge didn't have Riley on his roster.

"The journey we're fixing to go on of being on the same team again, the fact that he wanted to come play at the University of North Texas where I am the head coach, speaks volumes for our relationship," Todd said. "If our relationship had been terrible, he'd probably done everything he could to get away from dad."

It wouldn't have to be terrible. Two of the most quoted truisms pertaining to college are (a) the student can't wait to get away from home, and (b) the parents can't wait to get their house back. In the case of a quarterback playing for his dad, neither happens.

"I had opportunities to go far away," said Riley Dodge, who turned down Purdue and Missouri as well as Texas. "… If I need to go home, I can. If I don't want to, I don't have to."

How does a young man learn to separate from his father and become his own man without separating from his father?

They have ground rules.

"I learned this from Cheryl Beamer," Dan Hawkins said of the wife of the Virginia Tech coach. Shane Beamer played for the Hokies a decade ago. "She told me she told Frank that when Shane comes to the house, that's my boy. If you want to talk football, you talk football at the office. … I think I've always been fairly good about that. I've been trying to be more vigilant about it."

Cody Hawkins said his mom will organize card games, Boggle tournaments, "anything so that the topic of conversation is not football." He and his dad try, he said. They really do. Take the night this spring when they decided to go see the movie "Iron Man."

"We missed the movie time," Cody said, "because 40 minutes went by while we were talking football."

Dan and Misti Hawkins' youngest child, Drew, signed a letter of intent to play for Boise State in February and already has enrolled. Their nest should be empty. It is -- sort of. Cody doesn't come home all the time. When he shows up, he does his own laundry. Still …

"He wants to be a graduate assistant," Dan Hawkins said. "I told him, OK, you played for me. You've been around us. You need to be a G.A. somewhere else. You need to go learn from somebody else."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com