WMU hoops mainstay Steve Hawkins entering final year of contract; he says he's not worried

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Steve Hawkins

Western Michigan's Steve Hawkins is the third-longest-tenured Division I men's basketball coach in the state, entering his 17th season at the helm.

Now, will there be an 18th season?

Hawkins continues to love living in the Kalamazoo area and coaching the Broncos, but it's been some tough sledding on the court the last four years and he's entering this season in the final year of his contract.

There have been early informal talks between Hawkins and athletic director Kathy Beauregard, but nothing's close to being finalized on an extension.

Hawkins said he's entered a season in the final year of a deal before, and he's not overly concerned with it. He said his expectation is something gets done eventually.

"It's not something that I've ever really worried about in the 17 years I've been the head coach here," Hawkins said over the phone recently. "I trust Kathy and the president. I don't worry about it because it always gets done.

"I try to focus on winning and doing my job.

"I still like it here and at least most of the poeple like me here," Hawkins added, laughing. "It's been one of those marriages made in heaven for really all of us."

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Hawkins, 57, saw his current contract go into effect July 1, 2014, and it is set to run through May 31, 2020, paying him a base annual salary of $225,000 plus another $160,000 a year for radio and TV obligations, and appearances on behalf of Western. Western Michigan has hired a new president, Dr. Edward Montgomery, and seen six of its eight board of trustees members added since Hawkins last signed a contract.

Hawkins is the only Division I men's coach in Michigan entering the final year of his deal. Oakland's Greg Kampe and Central Michigan's Keno Davis recently got extensions, Eastern Michigan's Rob Murphy has another year beyond this one (thanks to his get-20-wins-get-a-one-year-extension clause), and Michigan's Juwan Howard, Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Detroit Mercy's Mike Davis all have several years remaining.

Hawkins, after three years as an assistant, took over as Western's head coach in 2003-04 and led the Broncos to the NCAA Tournament. They made it again in 2013-14, a surprise even to Hawkins.

Earlier that season, he had promised to get a Broncos tattoo, his first tattoo, if the team made the Big Dance. He thought he was safe, until he wasn't.

"Then I thought they had forgotten about it, they had not brought it up," Hawkins said, with a chuckle.

Then Western blew out Toledo in the Mid-American Conference championship game, and during the celebration in the locker room, the players brought it up again.

Hawkins' response:

"Oh, (bleep)!"

Hawkins made good with the Bronco and the Western "W" on his left arm, quite the commitment to Western Michigan.

The last four yeras have been a struggle, though, the best finish 17-15 in 2017-18. Last year, the Broncos hit the low-water mark under Hawkins, finishing 8-24, thanks to a series of season-ending injuries suffered before the schedule even began.

The last time a Hawkins-coached team lost so few games was 1991-92, when Division II Quincy went 8-20 in Hawkins' first season as a college head coach. Overall at Western, Hawkins is 278-243, with more Broncos wins than everybody but the legendary Herbert Read, who was 345-169 in coaching from 1922-49.

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Red-shirt junior forward Brandon Johnson and red-shirt sophomore guard Jason Whitens — a former third-place finisher in Mr. Basketball voting in Michigan — are back from their injuries, while the third player, Bryce Moore, has moved on to Xavier as a graduate transfer.

At Saturday's annual "Breakfast with the Broncos, Hawkins said all 14 of his players were healthy for the first time he can remember. That includes last year's leading scorer, junior guard Michael Flowers, and intriguing transfer William Boyer-Richard, a sophomore guard who can shoot the 3's, from Canada.

The recruiting class also included three freshmen, as the Broncos look to right the ship — for winning's sake, not for contract's sake, Hawkins said. The schedule appears manageable, with Michigan State (Dec. 29), Mississippi (Nov. 15) and Oklahoma State (Nov. 22) the lone Power-Five opponents.

"None," Hawkins said, asked if there was any pressure on him this year. "None that I wouldn't normally put on myself. From a contract standpoint, no, not even a little bit.

"I believe in loyalty, I've been very loyal to the university and they've been very loyal to me. There's just a lot of trust in them, and they know where my heart is."


Twitter: @tonypaul1984