Set to enter his 11th season as head coach and his 13th overall season with the Broncos, Steve Hawkins continues to mold the Western Michigan program into one that annually challenges for conference championships and postseason tournament berths. The Broncos have made five of Western Michigan’s eight postseason appearances since Hawkins’ arrival in Kalamazoo, and have rattled off 10 straight top-three MAC West finishes, the best mark in school history. In fact, over Hawkins’ 10 years as head coach, Western Michigan is one of only two schools in the conference to exhibit that kind of consistent success.
Hawkins reigns as the most tenured head coach currently in the MAC, with his 11 seasons at the helm of the Broncos ranking as more than any other coach in the conference. His stature among his peers is not surprising; after 10 seasons at WMU, Hawkins is included amongst the top coaches in MAC history. Hawkins is 99-68 in conference games for a .593 winning percentage, and his 181-145 overall record gives him a .555 winning percentage. Hawkins has led the Broncos to six MAC West division championships, including two back-to-back instances (2004-05 & 2008-09) as well as in 2011 and 2013. In addition, five the Broncos nine 20-win seasons in program history have come under Hawkins’ guidance, including two of the top three single-season wins totals in program history.
Hawkins became just the third coach in program history to reach 150 wins as a Bronco on November 23, 2011, when the Broncos drubbed the Oakland Golden Grizzlies 91-76 to give Oakland its worst home loss in three seasons. On January 14, 2012, Hawkins won his 153rd game as a Bronco to surpass Bob Donewald for second on the program’s all-time wins list; Hawkins achieved the feat in the middle of his ninth season, two full seasons fewer than Donewald needed to reach the mark, and trails just Western Michigan Hall of Famer Herbert “Buck” Read on the all-time list. Hawkins earned his 300th overall career victory on Nov. 18, 2012, when the Broncos defeated the South Florida Bulls 59-53 to clinch a weekend sweep at the USF Invitational. The win marked one of two “Red Line” upsets on the season for the Broncos, more than any other program in the MAC in the 2012-13 season.
Thanks to the team’s efforts on the court, Bronco fans have been spoiled in recent campaigns with postseason appearances, all-conference players, attendance records and television appearances. The Broncos have appeared on television a total of 25 times over the last two seasons, including an appearance in ESPN’s 5-Hour ENERGY Puerto Rico Tip-Off in 2011-12 and an extended run in the 2013 College Basketball Invitational in 2013. The Broncos have made regular appearances in ESPN-sponsored tournaments under Hawkins and, thanks to the conference’s partnership with SportsTime Ohio, WMU remains a visible, important part of the MAC’s television schedule.
The Broncos saw their way into the postseason for the fourth time under Hawkins in 2012-13, playing the in the 2013 College Basketball Invitational and winning a pair of games to reach the Final Four of the tournament. The Broncos have played in all four postseason tournaments in the 10 seasons under Hawkins, including an NCAA Tournament bid in 2003-04, an NIT appearance in 2004-05, and a CollegeInsider.com Tournament bid at the conclusion of the 2010-11 season. The Broncos are 4-4 in postseason play under Hawkins, and the two wins in the 2013 CBI mark the most postseason wins for any Broncos’ coach in a single postseason in program history.
The buzz about the Broncos was so high in 2007-08 that national television returned to University Arena for the first time since 2004 with WMU defeating in-state rivals Central Michigan, 72-52, and Eastern Michigan, 70-52, on ESPNU. In 2013 the Broncos’ home Bracketbuster game against Pacific on Feb. 23, 2013 was selected for broadcast on ESPN3, with the Broncos downing the Tigers 67-62 in front of a packed house at University Arena.
WMU had three-straight 20-win seasons and postseason appearances from 2003-05, matching the previous total in both categories since the first season of Bronco basketball in 1913-14. The Broncos added another 20-win season in 2010-11 and yet another in 2012-13; when including the 20-win season the Broncos posted while Hawkins was a Western Michigan assistant, one finds that six of the program’s nine 20-win seasons have come with Hawkins’ direct influence.
The Broncos’ success on the court has been matched by their success off the court, as well. Brandon Pokley was named Academic All-MAC for the second straight season in 2012-13, making him the fifth Bronco under Hawkins to achieve the honor in multiple years. This continued the Broncos’ impressive streak of players given the prestigious honor; the MAC names just five players Academic All-MAC at the conclusion of each season, and a Bronco has been among those players in each and every year under Hawkins, a boast no other school in the conference can lay claim to. Furthermore, WMU can lay claim to having 14 of the 41 players named to the team since the 2005-06 season, a ratio unmatched by any other MAC program. In addition, during the springs of 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2012, the Broncos were honored as being in the top-10 percent of Division I men’s basketball programs by the NCAA in Academic Progress Rate (APR).
The Broncos returned to their rightful spot atop the MAC West division standings in 2012-13, posting the third-highest single-season wins total in program history with a 22-13 mark and a MAC West-best 10-6 record in conference play. Playing with a squad of eight freshmen and a number of familiar faces cast into new starting roles, the Broncos started out the season hot, winning the USF Invitational with a clean sweep of Loyola-Chicago, Maryland-Eastern Shore, and the hosting Bulls, marking the first in-season tournament win the team had enjoyed since the 2003-04 season. WMU clinched their seventh overall MAC West division and sixth under Hawkins in 2013 and earned a bye to the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament, downing Eastern Michigan to advance to the semifinals before falling to Ohio.
The season carried on, however, as the Broncos earned a spot in the 2013 CBI, earning a pair of exciting wins to open the tournament and advance to its Final Four. Postseason play returned to University Arena for the first time since 2011 when the Broncos defeated North Dakota State, overcoming the Bison in overtime for a 72-71 win. The run took a turn for the dramatic in the team’s next outing, as the Broncos traveled to Laramie, Wyo. to face the Wyoming Cowboys. Playing at an altitude of 7,223 feet (the highest in Division I athletics), the Broncos came back from a second half deficit to shock the Cowboys 75-67 in overtime, snapping Wyoming’s 23-game home non-conference win streak. The Broncos bowed out of the tournament against George Mason in the semifinals, but by that point had already cemented the season’s successes.
It came as no surprise that the Broncos were well-represented in the Mid-American Conference year-end awards, with David Brown earning MAC Sixth Man of the Year honors and Darius Paul named the MAC Freshman of the Year. Shayne Whittington earned his first career All-MAC honors, making it on to the Second Team, while senior Nate Hutcheson was named All-MAC honorable mention in a season in which he reached 1,000 career points and set a program record for games played.
The 2011-12 season saw the Broncos overcome tremendous adversity both on and off the court, jelling at the right time and gaining momentum during a MAC Tournament run to the quarterfinals. Forced to endure a number of injuries that sidelined key players for weeks at a time, as well as a brutal non-conference schedule that ranked as the 12th-toughest in the nation and saw road trips to Purdue, Duke, and Gonzaga, the Broncos clawed their way to a respectable finish and the right to host a home game in the 2012 First Energy MAC Tournament.
The Broncos pounded the Ball State Cardinals in the first round game played at University Arena, and ran away with their second-round game against the Northern Illinois Huskies at Quicken Loans Arena to reach the quarterfinal game against Kent State. Despite trailing midway through the second half, the Broncos did as they had all year and fought their way back, just narrowly missing the opportunity to take on Akron in the semifinals.
The 2010-11 season was viewed by some as a transition year for the Broncos, but instead the team rose to the occasion and captured its fifth MAC West title under Hawkins, posting an 11-5 record in conference play. The Broncos returned to postseason play and hosted a postseason tournament game for the first time since 2005, defeating Tennessee Tech 74-66 in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT). Senior Alex Wolf was named an Academic All-MAC selection, continuing the long line of success for the Broncos in that category.
The 2009-10 season saw David Kool establish himself as the all-time leading scorer in WMU history and become Hawkins’ second MAC Player of the Year and second AP All-American. Kool was also named to the Academic All-MAC squad for the third year in a row to become the fourth Hawkins’ player to be a three-time Academic All-MAC honoree. Only one other MAC school has had one such athlete during the last seven seasons. Kool was tabbed as the MAC Player of the Decade by Rivals.com.
The Broncos defeated Northeastern, 75-60, on national television in the first Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. The Broncos played in an inaugural ESPN-sponsored tournament for the third time following the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., and the Charleston Classic in Charleston, S.C. Hawkins led the Broncos to their seventh top two finish in a row in the MAC West and the team reached the semifinals of the MAC Tournament. Freshman forward Nate Hutcheson joined Kool with postseason honors as the fourth newcomer of Hawkins’ WMU career to make the MAC All-Freshman Team.
The 2008-09 season marked the second MAC West championship in a row and fourth in six years for the Brown & Gold, while junior David Kool became the first Bronco to lead the MAC in scoring since 1987 on his way to becoming ESPN the Magazine Third Team Academic All-America and Second Team All-MAC. Kool’s Academic All-America honor was the third for a Bronco in three seasons, a mark that has happened only two other times in MAC history (1976-78 Ohio, 1991-93 Miami).
The Broncos went 3-1 against in-state rivals Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan to win the Michigan MAC Men’s Basketball Championship for the fourth year in a row (the award has only existed for four years) and win the title outright for the third time in four years. Freshman forward Flenard Whitfield became the third newcomer of Hawkins’ tenure named to the MAC All-Freshman Team.
The 2007-08 season saw Western Michigan live up to preseason expectations as they claimed the MAC West title for the fourth time in school history and reached 20 wins for the fourth time in six seasons. The Broncos were strong defensively as they led the MAC and ranked 37th in the country (out of 328) in field goal percentage defense (.407) and 84th in the country in scoring defense (65.0 ppg). WMU also ranked 15th in the country and led the MAC in free throw shooting (.753) and the team was 34th in the country and led the MAC in rebound margin (+4.9). For his efforts, Hawkins was named the MAC Coach of the Year by ESPN mid-major reporter Kyle Whelliston at MidMajority.com.
The Broncos were led by only the fourth pair of First Team All-MAC honorees in school history in senior center Joe Reitz and sophomore guard David Kool. Reitz, one of Hawkins’ first recruits, finished his career with a MAC record for free throws made (576) and finished third all-time in points (1,713) and rebounds (939) and fourth in field goal percentage (.548) in a career. Reitz was also named to the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major All-America Team and is now a starting left guard for the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League.
Reitz was also named to the ESPN the Magazine Academic All-America Second Team to become only the seventh player in conference history to be a two-time Academic All-American. Kool was named the Most Valuable Player in the MAC by CollegeInsider.com as he led the league in scoring in conference games with 17.8 points per game.
Western Michigan posted a pair of premier wins during the season as they knocked off NCAA Elite Eight participant Davidson, 83-76, and perennial mid-major power Southern Illinois, 57-41. Davidson was ranked No. 25 in the country when WMU defeated the Wildcats for the Broncos first win against a ranked team since Dec. 19, 1984 (No. 5 DePaul, 65-64). The 2007-08 Broncos also ended a pair of streaks by winning at Detroit, 60-59, for the first time since 1974 and winning at Toledo, 69-55, for the first win there since 1998.
Hawkins also was recognized in 2008 for his sense of style on the sidelines. He advanced to the final 16 of CollegeInsider.com’s Runway to the Fashionable Four. Along the way he defeated Florida coach Billy Donovan and Virginia Commonwealth (now at Alabama) head man Anthony Grant. Hawkins made another style run in 2010 to the Sensational 16, including a win over John Calipari of Kentucky.
The Broncos faced their most ambitious schedule yet during the 2006-07 campaign. Going into conference play, the Broncos had the fourth toughest strength of schedule in the country (CollegeRPI.com/Jan. 4). The Broncos played five teams that made the 2007 NCAA Tournament (Davidson, Miami-Ohio, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Indiana), postseason NIT champion West Virginia and three other NIT participants (Toledo, Marist, San Diego State).
The tough schedule saw Western Michigan make five national television appearances, including a victory over Virginia Tech on Thanksgiving Night at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., that turned out to be the best win by a MAC team all season, as the Hokies finished 34th in the final RPI. Only one other MAC team posted a win against a team ranked in the RPI Top 50.
The Broncos finished the year with three all-conference players, including MAC Freshman of the Year Kool. Reitz was named Second Team All-MAC for a second straight season and Shawntes Gary was named Honorable Mention All-MAC.
Even more impressive, Reitz was named an ESPN the Magazine First Team Academic All-American, the first Bronco in school history to ever earn that honor and only the seventh in MAC history. Reitz and Hershberger were also named Academic All-MAC for a second consecutive season.
After three straight 20-win seasons, the Broncos struggled out of the gate during 2005-06, but rebounded under Hawkins’ tutelage when conference play began. In a season Hawkins described as “the most rewarding in my career,” the Broncos responded by putting themselves in position to win a third consecutive MAC West Division title on the final day of the regular season.
Not only were the Broncos successful on the court, but they continued to excel in the classroom. Senior Brian Snider and sophomores Reitz and Hershberger made up three-fifths of the Academic All-MAC team and Reitz became the first ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District IV First Team selection for WMU since 1993.
After a record-setting first year as head coach in 2003-04, the Broncos followed with a 20-win campaign and National Invitation Tournament appearance in 2004-05. WMU became the first program ever to defend its MAC West Division title and featured the winningest senior class in school history.
WMU captured the MAC division, regular season and tournament championships en route to a 26-5 overall record in 2003-04, the highest total in school history. The team appeared in the NCAA Tournament for just the third time since the program’s inception after claiming the league’s automatic bid with Western Michigan’s first MAC Tournament championship.
Along with individual and team success on the court, the Broncos gained national attention throughout the season. Included in the exposure was a national television broadcast (ESPN2) at University Arena, earned by the squad’s quick start.
Voted the top rookie head coach by Basketball Times and Coach of the Year by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan, Hawkins has also helped renew interest on campus and in the community.
Players and coaches are heavily involved in organizations throughout the Kalamazoo area and the student group, “The Zoo,” has been a focal point for Hawkins during his tenure.
Named Western Michigan’s 13th head coach on May 1, 2003, Hawkins didn’t have to move any further than an office away after accepting the job. He had served the previous three seasons as the program’s top assistant under former head coach Robert McCullum.
A 25-year veteran of the collegiate ranks, Hawkins captured his 200th career victory on Dec. 2, 2006, when WMU defeated previously unbeaten San Diego State, 84-73, at University Arena. He has settled in the Midwest after beginning his career as a student at South Alabama and before arriving in Kalamazoo had already displayed the ability to direct a quality program, both on the court and in the classroom, at the NCAA Division II level.
Hawkins served for nine seasons as head coach of the basketball program at Quincy University in Illinois. The Ventura, Calif., native guided the Hawks to an overall record of 137-111, a total that included three NCAA Division II Tournament selections.
In only his third year at Quincy, Hawkins guided the Hawks to a 19-9 record and the first of back-to-back NCAA berths. The following year (1994-95) Quincy advanced to the Great Lakes Region semifinals and earned a 23-7 record. QU also competed in the event in 1996-97. He was named the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association NCAA Division II Coach of the Year four times.
Hawkins first broke into the collegiate profession at the University of South Alabama, where he worked for three seasons (1985-87) under head coach Mike Hanks as a student assistant.
After spending the 1987-88 campaign as a graduate assistant at Quincy, Hawkins spent the next two seasons as the top assistant coach at St. Andrew’s College (NAIA) in Laurinburg, N.C. He then returned to Quincy as an assistant coach for one season (1990-91) before assuming the head coaching duties in 1991-92.
At the age of 19, Hawkins was named the junior varsity coach at Villanova Prep High School (Ojai, Calif.), a position he held for two seasons. He followed that experience with a one-year stint as the junior varsity coach at St. Bonaventure High School (Ventura, Calif.) before moving from the West Coast.
Hawkins earned his bachelor’s degree at South Alabama in 1987 and went on to claim his master’s degree in sports science two years later at the United States Sports Academy.
Hawkins married the former Kelly Wojciechowski on May 15, 2010. They reside in Kalamazoo with Kelly’s son Trey, and their daughters Emily and Alyssa.