How Do You Say Farewell? A Reflection on the Life of Coach Ernest Hawkins

Coach Hawkins 3

(Note:Due to an unforseen family situation, I will not be able to attend Saturday’s services, so I’ve taken the opportunity to express my thoughts here. Thank You, Brian)

I won’t use the word goodbye here. That has a sense of finality that my faith and education tell me doesn’t fit. The loss of a loved one or friend is just the end of the life that we know. I believe there is another life out there, and I am hopeful that I will see Coach Hawkins again one day.

So, just how do you go about describing a man who embodied the definition of words like class, grace, and dignity? What follows is my attempt at it. It’s just the way I remembered it. If there are any inaccuracies, please forgive me.

First of all, to Ray, Kathy, LuAnne, and the rest of the Hawkins family…..thank you for sharing such a special person with the rest of us. It must not be easy growing up with a Dad who endured the rigors of coaching for so long. There are not sufficent words to express my gratitude and appreciation to all of you.

So, what made Coach Hawkins so great? I always thought it came down to three traits, traits that he shared with the truly great college coaches like Bryant, Wooden, and Bowden. They were organization, attention to detail, and how you treat people.

Organization-I had never seen a practice schedule so organized. There were periods with stations for each position group with drills. When the whistle blew, the group moved from one station to the next, always ending up in a full 11 on 11 setting. There was a list of game day procedures, and again, a schedule. Home game away game, game with bad weather, etc. Everything had a time and a procedure.

Attention to Detail-What foods to eat and what to avoid at the pregame meal. Keep your jersey tucked in(I still keep my tshirt tucked in at the gym to this day). Wearing the heavier cotton jerseys(I remember Cary Noiel hating it), even in the hot weather, because Coach Hawkins believed that the more the skill position players sweated, the jersey wouldn’t be as slick, and you could hold onto the ball better. Toe tapping drills for receivers so they would be better at getting their feet down in bounds. How to hold your hands correctly in catching a pass, so you could catch it by the point of the ball. Catch the ball at it’s highest point and attack it. How the quarterback held his hands under center. Nothing was overlooked or left to chance.

How to Treat People-From four year starter, all conference, All American, to walk on freshman(like I was), you got a smile and acknowledgement from Coach Hawkins. He would give a person every opportunity to succeed.  He always made you feel special.

It really was that simple. A few basic beliefs, a commitment and adherence to them, and do the best with what talents you had, balanced with  faith, and a kindness that belied a tough as nails core that made Coach Ernest Hawkins what he was. A legend. A man who could have coached any position on either side of the ball, at any level. We were fortunate that he chose make a life and career far from the spotlight in Commerce. He built a program the likes of which had never been seen before, or since his retirement in 1985, until the hiring of Colby Carthel in 2013. The single greatest success of the Carthel era so far has been the involvement of Coach Hawkins in the program. The Calling of the Roll after every win still sounds so sweet. I was fortunate to be present at the last one following the semifinal win over Harding.

There are a few personal instances I would like to recall here that I think gives a great impression on just who and what kind of Coach and person that he was.

In the Spring of 1979, I had come to Commerce on a Preview Day. I had applied and been accepted, but had not yet made the commitment to attend. There was a group of us playing basketball in the Field House, and I was returning the ball to what turned out was Coach Hawkins’s office. He noticed my letter jacket, and asked if I was from Quanah. I was surprised, because no one else I met had a clue. He asked if I knew a certain family there, and when I said that we were close family friends, Coach Hawkins said he had played with him at Texas Tech, invited me in, and talked for over an hour about everything but football. He asked if I was had chosen  a school yet, and I said I hadn’t, and that I had always had a dream of playing college football. He asked what position I played, and I told him that I had been a pretty good punter and kicker. He took all my information, and said that if I came there, he would have a spot for me to walk on. That sealed the deal right there.

Well, I wish I could say it worked out, but I did not make the team that fall, but Coach Hawkins kept me on as an equipment manager. I remember being hurt and disappointed, but it was a lesson he was trying to teach me. He never stopped teaching anyone. At the first pep rally before the opener, Coach was introducing everyone, and I remember thinking he was going to mention me as a manager, and I would feel like I failed. Instead, he introduced me as a kicker. I was walking on air the rest of the evening. That was the way he was. He could be as tough as ever, but then one kind word or chat was the fix for everything.

I came back for Homecoming in 2011, and by chance, the first person I saw was Coach Hawkins getting into his car. I knocked on the window, introduced myself , told him I was from Quanah. He turned off the car, got out, and talked for almost 30 minutes. I introduced him to my family, and he took one look at my then 15 year old son, asked what position he played, and how he was classified. The man still had an eye for players and never stopped recruiting.

Five years later, I ran into him on the field after a game, and told him my daughter would be going to school there in the fall of 2018. First thing he asks was she a runner or volleyball player. Always recruiting, always coaching, always teaching.

This past fall, I had a chance to tell him I loved him. Those lessons he had been teaching me and so many others all these years had finally taken hold, and that if I had listened then, well I might have done a better job for him. He smiled and hugged me.

Thanks, Coach. Farewell. We’ll meet again one day.

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