If Lobos are looking, some suggestions on picking next football coach
Time for some random and completely baseless speculation!
Simple logic suggests that the University of New Mexico will be looking for a new football coach pretty soon — if, that is, the school can somehow find a way to pay the estimated $1.5 million (or negotiate something less) it will take to buy out the contracts for head coach Bob Davie and his staff.
Athletic director Eddie Nuñez said during Saturday’s season finale at Dreamstyle Stadium that he had no plans to make an announcement on Davie’s future. But that was Saturday and today is another day, and it’s clear the clock is ticking.
Rest assured, a list of names exists somewhere inside the UNM athletic department, a list that has potential replacements waiting on speed dial. No one really knows who’s on there, so it’s up to us, the reckless media and semi-informed opinions of the fans, to throw names against the wall and see what sticks.
Chances are the next head coach isn’t on this list, but this is the fun part. It’s sort of like casting a net into the water and not knowing what will come back, if anything. Kind of like online dating.
There’s also a slight chance nothing happens. Davie is under contract through 2021, and barring some logistical move we haven’t anticipated yet — like him retiring, violating his contract and getting fired for cause, winning the Powerball and walking away with stacks of cash — he’ll be here another three seasons.
That includes next year’s Lobo road trip to Notre Dame. That should be interesting.
If he’s gone, there are two ways to go. Hire the older recycled coach who’s had his fair share of success and failure; a retread, a gray-haired patriarch with more miles than your grandpa’s gas guzzler. He’s looking for one final shot or merely trying to hold back the assault of Father Time by collecting a paycheck and winning the news conferences with his “one play at a time” rhetoric.
The other is a younger candidate, a coach who’s never held the head job or one who has had a taste of the big chair and is looking for the staircase to a Power Five program. He’ll bring energy and enthusiasm and — really, this is the best part — he comes cheap, say half of what UNM has been paying Davie.
The downside? Obvious. He’ll only be here three, maybe five years.
Any measure of success means he’s out the door because, let’s face it, UNM is not a college football destination. He’ll get attendance up, become a man of the people and pile up the wins. Then he’ll break your heart, ripping it from your chest and throwing it into the arroyo as he heads off to a seven-figure contract with a program that isn’t so hard to recruit to.
You’ll sit there at home, watching him in his introductory news conference, wearing a new suit and tie, one that matches the new school’s colors. Bitter and damaged, you’ll swear off Lobo football for not hanging on to a star and cursing the new school for stealing your coach. (See: Dennis Franchione, Steve Alford and — sooner or later — Paul Weir, etc.)
OK, let the speculation begin:
The obvious candidates (i.e., low-hanging fruit)
Danny Gonzales, defensive coordinator at Arizona State: An obvious choice, given he’s an Albuquerque native and former player at UNM. He began his coaching career on Rocky Long’s staff with the Lobos, then worked his way up the food chain in seven years with Long at San Diego State. Hired by Herm Edwards prior to this season to be the DC at ASU, he has helped the Sun Devils get a cup of coffee in the Top 25 and on their way to a bowl game next month.
Like some of the others on this list, his intimate knowledge of New Mexico and the challenge of building a winner out of the Lobo football program makes him a good fit. The fact that he’s a true local would certainly excite a fan base that is desperate for a breath of fresh air.
Zach Arnett, defensive coordinator at San Diego State: He’s not the only youngster on this list (keep reading) but, like Gonzales, is an Albuquerque native who played at UNM and started his coaching career under Rocky Long. He was promoted from linebackers coach to DC with the Aztecs when Gonzales moved onto Edwards’ staff.
For those of you old enough to remember Arnett as a kid, he was a Little League legend, then became part of La Cueva High’s ridiculously dominating runs in both football and baseball. Having both played for and then coached for and against the Lobos for his entire adult life, he understands almost as well as Gonzales the challenges of keeping UNM’s program competitive.
Noel Mazzone, offensive coordinator at Arizona: Another New Mexico native, this former prep star from Raton played quarterback at UNM four years after Rocky headed north to the Canadian Football League. All he’s done since is bounce around more than a pinball on steroids. He’s coached at 12 colleges and had a three-year stint as an assistant with the New York Jets and one as a high school assistant.
He’s had two stops at Ole Miss and coached in the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-10 (now 12) and the WAC — but never served as a head coach. At 61, he’s literally a career assistant who has never been with a team longer than five seasons, meaning he keeps U-Haul on speed dial. That might be a red flag.
He’s also the king of conservative offenses. He has been under fire this season at Arizona for scrapping Rich Rodriguez’s high-octane passing game for a dink-and-dump bubble screen approach.
The ‘You kiddin’ me?’ guys
Calvin Magee, offensive coordinator at UNM: Stop laughing; it’s not as though the suggestion here was defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove and his 119th-ranked unit that’s somehow better than another Mountain West team (San Jose State) and five spots better than the Aggies (124th).
In his first season with the Lobos, Magee has had to retool a triple option offense using three quarterbacks, none of which is suited for the job, let alone an offensive line that was built specifically for the straight-ahead and pulling scheme of running the ball.
The Lobos do rank 109th in offense, but they’ve somehow managed to improve to
190 passing yards. Plus, he might be a bargain; even doubling his base salary means you can pay him roughly two-thirds of what you did with Davie.
Rich Rodriguez, former coach at Arizona, Michigan and West Virginia: This flies in the face of going young or going home; he’s a retread and presumably too expensive, but he’s also available. Fired at Arizona last year, he and Magee could be reunited to bring whatever fast-forward offense they want to a fan base that is just begging for a shot of adrenaline.
Whereas Rich-Rod was once one of the hottest coaching names in the biz, he’s now somewhere along the lines of a Mike Leach-type; had his shot at the big time and now just looking for a place to hide and work privately in his secret lair.
Les Miles, former coach at LSU: Oh, shoot, never mind. Dangit! Kansas beat the Lobos to the punch and, it appears, not a moment too soon. Did you see the guy’s introductory press conference?
“Yeahhhhh, OK, we’re good,” you said.
Go ahead, admit it.
Looks like Nuñez will have to look elsewhere in his LSU Rolodex for a potential candidate … thank goodness.
Tommie Robinson, running backs/recruiting coordinator at LSU: This would be a home run. No, a grand slam. Or a minor miracle if Nuñez pulled it off. Robinson has one of the best jobs in college football, which is recruiting to a Big Five superpower. He’d need about four seconds to figure out it’s not so easy here in the high desert on a budget smaller than what LSU probably spends on laundry bills. But, hey, this guy has coached for over 30 years, including two teams in the NFL and stops in the ACC, SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12.
His track record suggests he’s a player’s coach, one who might have the ability to coax a would-be Big Five recruit to take a chance on a place like UNM.
Neal Brown, head coach at Troy: There are wish lists and then there are over the top/you’re out of your mind wish lists. This guy tops the later. At 38 he’s one of the youngest and brightest minds in college football, leading the Trojans to 30 wins (and counting) the last three years. He’s destined for the big time and the odds of landing him are, well, let’s just say it’s Hail Mary time.
Jason Washington, defensive backs/recruiting coordinator at Texas: He’s part of the blossoming Tom Herman coaching tree, following the ’Horns head coach from Houston to Texas. A rising star in the coaching ranks, he has strong ties to the Lone Star State and his recruiting inroads would be a natural fit for a UNM program that has had a long history of trying pluck the best available players from that area.
Wishful thinking guys (go ahead, swipe right)
David Reeves, defensive coordinator at UAB: Bottom line, the man can coach defense. His Blazers ranked fifth in the country in total defense coming into the weekend and had given up fewer than nine points per game in Conference USA as the season finale approached. He’s loyal, having proven just that when he stayed on at UAB after the school mothballed the program and then took two years off trying to rebuild it.
Billy Gonzales, co-offensive coordinator/running backs at Florida: A former player at Colorado State and a native of Thornton, Colo., he coached under Urban Meyer (looks good on the resume, right?) with stops in the Big Ten, SEC and Mountain West. He’s never been a head coach and, at 47, may be looking for a shot.
Kodi Burns, co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach at Auburn: He’s young (29) and has never been a head coach, but the buzz surrounding this former Auburn star is real. His name repeatedly pops up as one of those next-big-thing coaching prospects, but with the Tigers having dropped out of the national polls he may have fallen off some teams’ radar.
Chad Glasgow, defensive coordinator at TCU: He was once graduate assistant at New Mexico under Dennis Franchione and has served as DC at both Texas Tech and now with the Frogs. It’s a stretch to think UNM could lure him away but this is, after all, a place for reckless speculation.
ripe for an upset
Condoleezza Rice, would-be head coach of the Cleveland Browns: When she’s not too busy finding ways to keep Central Florida out of the College Football Playoffs — oh, wait, she doesn’t serve on the CFP Committee anymore — and not too busy negotiating a coaching contract with the Mistake by the Lake, she’d be the splash hire UNM needs to put fannies in the seats.
And while we’re at it, let’s add Rush Limbaugh, Dennis Miller and Halle Berry (thank you, Jared Goff) to the list.
Mike Locksley, offensive coordinator at Alabama: Hahahahahahahahaha! Oh my gosh, spit take! Isn’t he still on UNM’s payroll from his buyout? He could come at a discount …