The 52-year-old former U.S. college coach took over the Montreal Alouettes this season with plenty of enthusiasm but little knowledge of the 12-man game.
"It's a very fun game," said Hawkins. "It's because of the pace, and all the situations.
"It's a long way from your sideline to the other, especially when your bench is at one end and you've got to run guys to the other side. But that's the joy of it."
Hawkins is the only truly new head coach in the eight-team league this season.
There is a new man with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Kent Austin, but he knows the CFL inside out as a former quarterback and coach. Austin was last seen in the CFL in 2007, leading the Sakatchewan Roughriders to a Grey Cup.
And while Tim Burke replaced the fired Paul LaPolice as interim head coach in Winnipeg last Aug. 25, it will be his first start to a campaign with the Blue Bombers in that role.
Back for their second seasons are Scott Milanovich of the Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts, Mike Benevides of the British Columbia Lions and Corey Chamblin of the Edmonton Eskimos.
Kavis Reed is entering his third campaign with Saskatchewan, while John Hufnagel is now the longest-serving coach with one team in his sixth season with the Calgary Stampeders.
Hawkins replaced Marc Trestman, who left the Alouettes to become head coach of the NFL's Chicago Bears after five years and two Grey Cups with Montreal.
Trestman also entered the league with no CFL experience, but at least he had many years working with pros as an offensive co-ordintaor and quarterbacks coach in the NFL.
Hawkins made his name as head coach at Boise State University, but then posted a 19-39 record over five difficult years at Colorado. He spent the last two years as a football analyst on television.
It seems a sketchy background for a new leader of a perennial Cup contender, but general manager Jim Popp saw potential in a coach known as more of an overseer than a hands-on boss.
Hawkins calls his style "situational leadership."
"I can micro-manage if I need to, and I will, but to me, it's fine-tweaking everything and co-ordinating everything, and knowing it's not just offence or defence or special teams," he said. "It's how do you win as a football team."
To ease the transition, Popp has expanded the coaching staff to 12, and brought in veteran Doug Berry as senior adviser to the head coach. Berry was an assistant in Montreal from 1999 to 2005 and was head coach in Winnipeg for three years.
"I think we learned our lesson with coach Trestman," said Popp. "It helps to have some experienced CFL people.
"To have Doug's voice in that room, having been a co-ordinator, offensive-line coach, quarterbacks coach and head coach, he has a wealth of experience that he can bounce off people. And he's been in different cities. He can explain about going out west, how the wind is and how the stadiums are. You can't replace that."
Already, Berry's been helpful.
Hawkins recalled how before a pre-season game, he was overseeing warm-up and wondering when the officials would come over for the pre-game meeting, as they do in the U.S. Berry told him that in the CFL, it is the coaches who go to the referees at midfield for the meeting.
"So everything is an adjustment," Hawkins said with a laugh. "We call ourselves the adjustment bureau."
Hawkins has large boots to fill after Trestman, while Austin has the weighty task of turning Hamilton into a winner. The talented Ticats have threatened to become an East Division power in recent years, but now they need to win games on the field.
They were 6-12 under George Cortez last season and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008. They were first in the league in both points scored and points allowed.
The 49-year-old Austin, who is also vice-president of football operations, has the credentials for the job.
His 10 seasons as a player included leading the Roughriders to a Grey Cup victory over Hamilton in 1989. He was offensive co-ordinator on a Grey Cup winner in Toronto.
After coaching Saskatchewan to a Cup he left to become offensive co-ordinator at the University of Mississippi, his alma mater, before becoming head coach at Cornell.
Not long ago, there was a coaching carousel in the CFL, with mentors like Dave Ritchie and Don Matthews moving from team to team. Now Austin is the only one who has ever been head coach of another team in the league.
Milanovich was Trestman's right hand man in Montreal before he jumped at his shot for a first head coaching role with Toronto last season. The 40-year-old whose specialty is quarterbacks has set the bar high after winning a Cup in his rookie campaign, but will have a chance to repeat with star pivot Ricky Ray behind centre.
Burke fulfilled a long-standing dream to be a head coach when he took over the Bombers last season and was confirmed as head coach on Nov. 1.
There will be pressure from the outset for the former Alouettes defensive co-ordinator with the team moving into the new Investors Group Field. The Bombers were 6-12 last year and were crushed in both of their pre-season games this year.
Hufnagel, another former CFL quarterback, is 59-30-1 in his five seasons in Calgary, including a Grey Cup in his first year in 2008. The 61-year-old was offensive co-ordinator for the Stampeders in the 1990s, then went to the NFL before moving back up north as a head coach.
Benevedes had the thankless task of replacing the respected Wally Buono, who remains general manager. All went well in a 13-5 regular season, but the former Lions' defensive co-ordinator is 0-1 in the playoffs after losing to Calgary in the West final.
The 40-year-old Reed is another who is under the gun in Edmonton. All went OK in his first year as they lost the West final after an 11-7 season, but last year, the Eskimos dropped to 7-11 and were bounced in the first round.
Chamblin is charged with bringing the Roughriders back to respectability after an 8-10 campaign as a rookie head coach on a team with a lot of rookie players. He'll have Cortez as his offensive co-ordinator.Suggest a correction