REXBURG — First-year Madison High School boys basketball coach Travis Schwab said one of his only fears is failing his idol — retired legendary Madison coach Bill Hawkins.
“He, to me, is one of my heroes,” Schwab said of Hawkins. “He’s one of those guys on a mantel where very few people are. That’s the pressure I feel. I don’t want to disappoint the guy that believed in me when other people may have not.”
Schwab took over Hawkins’s role as Madison’s head coach in May but is tasked with an almost impossible objective: replicate, and continue, the program Hawkins built in Rexburg over 29 years.
It will be tough for Schwab to match Hawkins’ success with the Bobcats, too. Hawkins coached Madison to 10 state title appearances — winning five of them — in the past 20 years to go along with a 596-295 career record that includes his four years as an assistant coach at Rigby, per the Upper Valley Standard Journal.
Arguably, no one may ever have the same success Hawkins had in Rexburg.
But, traditions change and Schwab’s hire makes sense: Schwab spent 12 years as an assistant coach under Hawkins. He has a strong repertoire with Madison’s three seniors. He’s coached most of Madison’s players since they were in grade school.
He even played for Hawkins as a high schooler.
“I would be lying to you if I said there was no fear,” Schwab said of the change.
Changing traditions can be difficult. And it may not be all “sunshine and rainbows” in Rexburg during the next few months (Madison graduated eight seniors from its 22-3 club a year ago). But Schwab is the correct person to carry on Hawkins’ legacy, Hawkins said.
“(Schwab’s hire) wasn’t hard, I believe, because he was a part of all that success we had,” Hawkins said in a phone interview. “I don’t think he’ll be Bill Hawkins 2.0, but he doesn’t have to be. He’ll continue the success in his own way.”
In a sense, Hakwins is correct. Schwab is a different coach than Hawkins.
Schwab said at Wednesday’s practice that he’s added wrinkles of his own to Madison (3-2) even if he’ll try not to stray too far away from the system-first approach Hawkins had.
“The boys have more of a voice” under Schwab, senior Cameron Webster and Brigham Williams agreed. This includes allowing more emotion during practices and having team captains (Williams and Travis’ son, Jaden) for the first time in three decades.
The team captains and Schwab have compromised early on, as Schwab allowed the Bobcats’ to choose practice jerseys (grey reversals) and what away shoes (red) to wear.
Webster and Williams said Schwab has implemented more team-building ideas, like team dinners and service projects, too.
The changes are small — minuscule, even — but a shift in culture at Madison nonetheless.
“I think with Hawkins there was one way, just a big system,” Williams said. “But Schwab gets us involved in different ideas.”
Schwab did say he will maintain the same “off court rules” that Hawkins implemented during his legendary tenure. Players are encouraged to turn in their phones to their parents by a certain curfew. Academic standards are still harped on. Madison players still use the same chant from Hawkins’ era — “Alley Fighters” — before games.
“He’s been the staple of Madison basketball for the past 30 years,” Schwab said of Hawkins. “In my opinion, he’s the best coach to ever coach in Idaho. Again, I was lucky enough to be his assistant for 12 years so we’ve tried to do a lot of the things that he did that he was successful with.”
Yet, despite subtle changes and an easy-going persona — Schwab wore simple black sweatpants, white tennis shoes and a black grey sweater Wednesday at Madison’s practice — he still pressures himself to not let down “the greatest coach in Idaho.”
“I think the biggest pressure I feel is not disrespecting what coach was doing, but also be myself,” said Schwab, who talked to Hawkins over the phone from Rexburg to Twin Falls during the preseason. The two towns are about a three-hour drive a part.
“There is that pressure. I really don’t want to disappoint coach because he advocated for me,” Schwab said.
How does Schwab deal with that fear and pressure? Hint: it’s not about wins and losses, he said.
Rather, it’s about whether his team growing and maturing. If Madison — which is predicted to not do as well compared to previous seasons — doesn’t do well: well, that’s a part of the growing pains of being a new coach.
“It’s good to have that pressure,” Hawkins said. “Learning to enjoy it comes with age. When you first start, don’t think about the pressure and do what you can to be the best coach possible. Because if you do fail, you can look in the mirror and say, ‘I did everything I could,’”
At Wednesday’s practice, Jordan Porter pulled up and hit a 3-pointer in front of teammate Joe Dougherty.
Dougherty just smiled, as the Bobcats howled inside the empty gym.
“We’re just trying to run and have some fun,” said Webster, sweaty and breathing heavy from a full-court scrimmage.
“We have a motto this year, it’s on the back of our shirts. It’s called ‘PTW,’” Schwab added. “It means ‘Prove Them Wrong.’”