Hawking Hopes to Hang On With Titan Basketball Team : Colleges: Interim coach, who took over when Holland left for USD, says he has made progress with team.


Bob Hawking is completing the Cal State Fullerton men's basketball schedule for next season, even though he might not be around for the opening tipoff.

And as April 12, national letter of intent signing day, approaches, he's recruiting players he might never coach.

But Hawking doesn't dwell on things that might not happen. He remains busy and upbeat.

After a season as interim coach, he is optimistic about his chances of winning the job permanently.

"We'll go through the process now and see what happens," Hawking said. "But, more than ever, I want this job. We're moving forward as if this will be the coaching staff of the future."

The search committee Athletic Director John Easterbrook appointed has started screening outside candidates, and interviews will follow in the next few weeks.

Easterbrook expects to be able to decide in early April from three to five finalists. But it appears likely Hawking will be a leading contender for the job. His chief competition is expected to be Utah assistant Donny Daniels, a former Titan player and assistant.

Easterbrook has remained noncommittal, reaffirming his position that it be "an open process" with all candidates getting full consideration.

But Easterbrook acknowledges that the money the school can pay might limit outside interest. The job probably will pay in the $75,000 range. "The budget's not there right now to pay more, but I think we'll have a good group of candidates," Easterbrook said.

Most Big West basketball head coaching jobs reportedly pay more. Seth Greenberg recently was given a new contract at Long Beach State in the $175,000-a-year range. Nevada Las Vegas traditionally has been the highest paying job in the conference, and Tim Grgurich was getting $300,000 a year when he resigned.

Fullerton also faces several other problems in recruiting a coach.

The school's playing facility, locker rooms and coaches' offices are badly in need of upgrading, and Fullerton's recruiting budget is believed to be one of the lowest in the Big West. Regardless, Hawking says he's committed to the school, despite those negative factors.

"One of the most important things we can bring to the program is the stability it hasn't had in the last few years," said Hawking, who was Fullerton's third head coach in the last four seasons. He took over 21 days before the start of practice when Brad Holland moved to the University of San Diego. "I'm not applying for any other positions, although I'm fairly sure that the other people who apply here will be.

"Having been here for three seasons, two of them as an assistant, I feel I have a good handle on the challenges. I think that gives me and my staff an advantage in knowing what we have to do. We're in place and ready to move forward. There would be a lot of time lost again if a new staff comes in."

Hawking says the talent level at Fullerton will be better next season.

"I think we'll be in significantly better shape," he said. "We've already signed two players early, and we have two other commitments we can't announce until they officially sign April 12. We're very pleased with the recruiting year we're having."

Fullerton's commitments are from high school players Brian Montonati, a 6-9 post player from Muskegon, Mich., and Mark Richardson, a 6-8 power forward from Ft. Wayne, Ind. Montonati is averaging 23 points and 14 rebounds, and Richardson finished with an average of 15 points and nine rebounds.

The Titans also will gain three redshirts who did not play last season. That group includes 6-9 center Dirk Rassloff, a transfer from Farleigh-Dickinson, and 6-5 swingman Maurice Madison, a transfer from Northeastern Illinois. Point guard Ali Nayab sat out the season as a medical redshirt.

"One thing I'm pleased about is that the team's academic performance has improved this year," Hawking said. "We've made a concerted effort to try to improve things in that area. We want our players to graduate, and I feel responsible to make sure that happens."

Hawking also said he believes he has good support among returning players. Several spoke to Easterbrook in favor of Hawking before the athletic director was hired, and a group has signed a letter to Easterbrook expressing support.

"I think what we really need is a stable situation," said Chris Dade, who was a starter as a freshman. "That main reason I came here was that I thought it would be that way."

Another freshman, reserve John Williams, said the players want the coaches to return. "It was a real shock to us all when Holland left, and I know I don't want to have another new coach a year later," he said.

Hawking said his overall experience also will be in his favor. He was a highly successful coach at Simi Valley High from 1974 through 1988. His teams there were 230-119, and the 1988 team led by Don MacLean, now with the Washington Bullets, won the Southern Section 4-A championship.

After being a restricted earnings coach for two years at Pepperdine under Tom Asbury, Hawking went to UC Davis for two years as a full-time assistant, before Holland hired him as his top assistant at Fullerton in 1992.

Even though the Titans finished 7-20, rival Big West coaches praised Hawking throughout the season. Fullerton was 5-13 in the Big West, finishing ninth after being picked to be last.

"I think it would be terrible for them to look for another coach," Nevada's Pat Foster said. "I thought his team was as well-coached this season as any in our league. He's a guy who has worked hard and has come up through the ranks. Based on where they were picked to finish, they were much more competitive."

Utah State Coach Larry Eustachy, whose team won the regular season championship, agreed. "I think he did a great job in a very difficult situation," he said. "It's very tough to coach in an interim situation, and he held them together under some adverse conditions."

UC Irvine Coach Rod Baker also was impressed. The Titans beat Irvine, 74-68, in January, but lost to the Anteaters in the last game of the regular season and in the Big West tournament.

"He had everyone ready to play in every game, and isn't that what it's all about," Baker said. "Who's going to be able to do a better job in those circumstances? The guy's out there giving orange and blue blood, and you just can't buy that."

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