Hawkins is dismissed as UMBC basketball coach

March 10, 1995|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

After his sixth consecutive losing season, Earl Hawkins was fired yesterday as men's basketball coach at UMBC.

"Probably one of the most difficult decisions I've had to make in my 15 years as an administrator," said UMBC athletic director Charlie Brown.

"Earl is an extremely good person, and he took it like a real gentleman," Brown said. "He was very appreciative of the opportunity that we gave him. We just felt that, after seven years, looking at the whole picture, not just wins and losses, we weren't where we wanted to be. We felt we needed new leadership."

Hawkins got his first collegiate coaching job at UMBC in 1988, when the Retrievers were entering their third season as a Division I program. He left a successful, 10-year stint as boys basketball coach at Crossland High School in Prince George's County, and enjoyed brief success with the Retrievers. In his rookie season, he guided UMBC to a 17-11 record. The 17 wins were the most by a UMBC team in seven years.

Hawkins, 42, is still looking for his next winning season. Over the past six years, UMBC went 60-108 (.357 percentage) to give him a career mark of 77-119.

"It was seven years in which things just didn't go well," Hawkins said. "I don't regret my decision to take the job. I don't regret anything. I think I'm a much better person and coach than I was seven years ago.

"The most frustrating parts of the job revolve around things you can't control, such as injuries and academic support. But kids graduated. We worked hard every day in practice. I always thought about the kids first."

Most of the past two seasons were frustrating for Hawkins, who received a two-year contract extension after a 12-16 season in 1992-93.

The 1993-94 season started badly and went downhill for the Retrievers. First, they lost senior center Sonique Nixon to academic ineligibility in early January. Several weeks later, senior guard Skip Saunders, the team's leading scorer, went down with a knee injury after slipping on ice and was lost for a month.

Those factors contributed to a pair of nine-game losing streaks, a quarterfinal exit in the Big South tournament and a 6-21 finish, UMBC's worst under Hawkins.

That put additional pressure on the coach, whose final season started on a foreboding note when senior forward Kevin Bellinger was ruled academically ineligible. The Retrievers stumbled to a 1-7 start.

But, with the help of a new staff of assistants led by Randy Monroe, Hawkins guided the Retrievers to 12 victories in their next 18 games. UMBC finished third in the Big South, its best regular-season finish since becoming a member of a Division I conference.

The Retrievers then lost to No. 6 seed Liberty in the first round of the league tournament last week to wind up with a 13-14 record.

"We certainly showed progress this year, but there was no assurance that things were going to get better," Brown said. "We've had a lot of success in other sports. We really need a winner in basketball. It's the centerpiece of our program."

Brown said he plans to move swiftly to replace Hawkins. The school will advertise for the job immediately, and will soon form a national search committee of "seven or eight" individuals.

Brown hopes to announce a new coach by the middle of next month.

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