Steve Hawkins says farewell to 'family'; Western Michigan coaching search comes to crawl

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Steve Hawkins, the third-longest-tenure Division I basketball coach in the state before he was dismissed this month, has broken his silence, calling the Western Michigan program "his baby."

Hawkins made the comments in an extensive Facebook post over the weekend.

Steve Hawkins was the Western Michigan men's basketball coach for the past 17 seasons.

"When I was hired 17 years ago I was asked numerous times by numerous people to not use their university as a 'stepping stone,'" Hawkins wrote. "I listened and am proud that I kept that promise."

Hawkins was at Western for 20 years, including the first three as an assistant. He led the program to two NCAA Tournament appearances, and was second in wins in program history with 291, but the Broncos fell on hard times in recent years. They were 13-19 and 6-12 in the Mid-American Conference this past season, and 8-24 and 2-16 last season, amid a series of untimely transfers and injuries.

They last made the NCAA Tournament in 2014.

Western was quick to move on finding its next coach, hoping that would be former WMU star and current Michigan assistant Saddi Washington, but he decided to stay in Ann Arbor for at least a second season under Juwan Howard. Washington made $330,000 this past season, and is expected to get a raise.

Western now is in slowdown mode in replacing Hawkins, who earned $385,000 in base pay in the final year of his contract. Western isn't expected to go beyond that in terms of pay.

The school has interviewed at least two other candidates, but is very early in the process.

Athletic director Kathy Beauregard said the coronavirus shutdown of schools across the state, including Western, has been a roadblock. She is more concerned with finding student-athletes housing options, should they not be able to go home, like international students.

"It's not been business as usual," Beauregard said. 

Western students who can't go home, including athletes, are expected to move into a recently deep-cleaned dorm Tuesday, with takeout dining services still available.

Beauregard said she doesn't expect a new Western coach by the end of the week, nor would she publicly identify all those who have interviewed, outside of Washington. Those two FaceTimed last week, with Washington acknowledging it was a difficult decision to turn down his alma mater.

Coaches known to be interested in the position include longtime Michigan State assistant Dwayne Stephens and Missouri assistant Cornell Mann, a Metro Detroit native who is a former assistant at Western, Central and Oakland. Mann has deep recruiting ties in Detroit. He has 17 seasons as an assistant coach, but no head-coaching experience in college. Interestingly, Mann and Stephens are cousins. Another name to watch and who figures to be interested: Jon VanderWal, head coach at Division III Marietta College in Ohio. VanderWal twice had been offered the Division II Ferris State top job that eventually went to third choice Andy Bronkema, who led the Bulldogs to a national championship three seasons ago.

Western is believed to be looking for a lower-division head coach ready to make the leap, or a high-major Division I assistant.

As for Hawkins, he said he's not sure what the future holds, especially given these uncertain times created by the coronavirus pandemic.

"One of the tenants (sic) of our program ... is based on the term, “Next Possession,” Hawkins, whose dog is named Buster and who has a "W" tattoo on his arm, wrote on Facebook. 

"It not only applies to the court but also serves as a metaphor for life. Regardless of what happens we have to move on to the next thing."

With that, Hawkins shared several pictures from his time at Western, including his last day on campus, cleaning out his office.

He left a message for the players and the program on his white board.

It read: "Much love to all of you! Thanks for the memories. All of you current + former players ARE family."

Twitter: @tonypaul1984