COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- In the middle of a long conversation this week about Troy Calhoun and the life of a college coach, Frank Serratore asked a troubling question:
"You think Dan Hawkins is happy he left Boise State?"
If you watched Hawkins this season as he slowly and then rapidly shriveled to almost nothing as a football coach, the answer is easy.
Hawkins left the security of Boise for the chaos of Boulder. He took a risk, ventured out on the football ledge and crashed. His coaching career never will recover. This week, we watched a beaten man say goodbye.
Calhoun faces the same opportunities, and the same risks.
At the end of each football season, the exit rumors begin. Calhoun has revived the Falcons, breathing new life into a program that broke down in the last days of the Fisher DeBerry era. He's crafted a solid, if not sensational, coaching performance at his alma mater.
If he wants, he can leave. Job offers await. He might triple his salary. He might even start a walk that would end with the glamour and terror of life as an NFL head coach.
Serratore, who has coached at Air Force since 1997, is quick to say coaching college hockey is different than coaching college football. Football coaches, he said, earn more money and face more torment from fans and athletic directors.
But in many ways, the temptations and rewards are similar. A coach can climb a perilous ladder or he can seek satisfaction where he resides.
"Troy knows what he has here," Serratore said. "You don't know what you have when you move. What you perceive as the bright lights, sometimes they aren't so bright.
"Too many people are always thinking of the things that they don't have as opposed to being thankful for the things that they do have.
"My warning: Just be careful what you wish for. You know what I mean? Be careful what you wish for."
In 1997, Serratore faced a choice. After being offered an assistant coaching job with the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, he had a chance to coach Mario Lemieux and that shaky ladder to the top still beckoned.
Or, he could accept an offer to coach at the Air Force Academy. He had wandered through six coaching stops in 14 years, including four seasons as head coach at Denver.
He was weary of wandering. He and his wife, Carol, wanted a permanent home for their four children. He believed he could build a strong hockey program on the edge of Colorado Springs. He said yes to the Falcons and never seriously pursued another job.
One of the sweetest things about life is we all have the chance to pursue our happy ending, and what makes me leap with glee might not produce the same rapture in your heart. I have no clue what will deliver ultimate satisfaction to Troy Calhoun. That's his decision. That's his journey.
And, of course, there are happy endings for the endlessly ambitious. Vince Lombardi climbed the shaky ladder all the way to glory and riches at the top. So have Bill Belichick and Smiling Nick Saban and dozens of others.
But I can't chase that final image of Hawkins, the coach who helped build a power in Boise, the coach who arrived in our state with such gleam, such promise.
The coach who looked so alone, drained and defeated Tuesday.