At the conclusion of his first workout since rejoining the program, a Charlestown player smiled at football coach Jason Hawkins and quickly dispelled any sense of awkwardness or mistrust.
“Coach,” he said, “it’s like you never left.”
After a year at Mid-Southern Conference rival Silver Creek, Hawkins has returned to the Charlestown fold. He guided the Pirates for seven seasons, and went 60-20 with a Class 3-A sectional championship in 2012, before leaving to take over the Dragons in 2014.
Looking back, Hawkins admits his departure was a mistake. His daughter Laney certainly thought so. She cried at the time, stating her father “messed up my whole life.” She shed tears again when Hawkins broke the news of his return.
“My No.1 fan is happy again,” Hawkins said. “I’ve got her back on my side.
“We all make mistakes in life. A lot of times people base decisions on emotions, and they shouldn’t. The reasons I left Charlestown were reasons I probably should not have had. I wouldn’t say we left on bad terms. I don’t regret it. Looking back, I probably wouldn’t do it again. But I enjoyed my year at Silver Creek.”
Hawkins went 4-5 with the Dragons, who are still struggling to rise from the program’s infancy stage. Meanwhile, former Corydon coach Darin Ward took over the Pirates and went 10-3 with a sectional championship. When Ward suddenly left to coach at Boonville (his alma mater), Charlestown athletic director Chad Gilbert had a very short list of candidates.
Hawkins topped it. And Gilbert didn’t have to persuade him too long, although Hawkins had to factor in how it would look for him to bolt back after only one season in Sellersburg.
“It was a difficult decision,” Hawkins said. “I wasn’t looking to leave. I wasn’t applying any other places. But when the Charlestown job came open again, I just thought it was the right place for me to be. There were times during the year that I missed it, and it was a good fit for me to go back.”
If anyone has earned a pass with the fan base locally known as “Pirate Nation,” it is Hawkins. When he took over in 2007, the Pirates had won seven games in the previous five years. He went 10-1 that first season, and Hawkins never posted fewer than seven wins during his first stint.
“Darin did a great job,” Hawkins said. “They had a great season. I’m just glad this has worked out for me. This is Charlestown. To me, this is home. This is where I wanted to be. This is where I should be.”
Of course, Hawkins left a hole at Silver Creek, and new athletic Jeff Harrell moved quickly to fill it. He hired former Eastern Pekin coach John Dablow, who had resigned from the Musketeers in November after six seasons and a 17-44 record. Eastern started its program in 2007. Ironically, Silver Creek’s first varsity victory (in 2012) came at Dablow’s expense.
“When the opportunity came up, it was hard to pass up,” Dablow said. “It is a young program. I’ve been a part of a young program, so I know what some of the expectations are. You don’t want to set things too high or too low. The other sports programs at Silver Creek are top notch, so the winning tradition is there. We just need to carry that over to the football field.”
Hawkins didn’t leave Silver Creek, a fast-growing 4-A program, on shaky ground. Upgrades were made to the locker room and weight room. He demanded a better work ethic.
“The kids are great there and they’re going to be good in football,” Hawkins said. “They’re going in the right direction. John will be a good fit and take them to the next level.”
The last domino to fall in the wake of the Ward departure was Eastern’s hiring of Luke Dean, the former head coach at Eastern Greene. Dean went 21-40 in six seasons with the Thunderbirds.
Justin Sokeland can be followed on Twitter at @golfguru55