By Russell Gurule
Enchantment Sports Fandemonium
Lobo football fans, we have now reached the final two games of the season — both at home — starting with No. 23 Boise State this Friday (Nov, 16). New Mexico comes in with a 3-7 record and just 1-5 in the Mountain West Conference. The natives are getting restless with Lobo Football.
These next couple of games could be considered the defining stretch of this season. How the Lobos perform will play a considerable role in head coach Bob Davie’s future at UNM, one which will surely be up for debate by the end of the season.
A thin margin of error, it’s a term that head coach Bob Davie has used in interviews, and press conferences to describe his time at New Mexico. To get an idea of what that entails, let’s look at the definition of this term. The BusinessDictionary gives a nice definition by stating: An analytical technique that accounts for the number of acceptable errors in an experiment.
Lobo football is an experiment. It just may well be as challenging as science itself. Putting a team together is always an experiment from season to season. This experiment requires many behind the scenes functions just to even attempt to have a team. Everything from the coaching staff, recruiting, and facilities along with marketing and attendance helps determine the budget allocated for each season. All these functions determine New Mexico’s margin for error, or should we say a thin line between winning and losing.
New Mexico is not alone, at the top of the college football world is Alabama who may have the thinnest margin of them all. It’s National Championship or bust. Yet everything to achieve that goal is in place. For New Mexico it is more of a case of just be consistently competitive on the field.
But what is acceptable to the fans? If you were to ask an Alabama fan what his or her expectations are, you would probably get the answer of National Championship.
If you were to ask a New Mexico fan the same question at the season’s start, you would probably get a variety of different answers. “I hope they don’t have a losing season.” “I just want to see them in a bowl game this year.” “Just beat the Aggies, that’s all I care about.” This inconsistency of expectations has been steady since the final years of head coach Rocky Long’s tenure at New Mexico.
Alabama has put everything in place to win, and win big. What does New Mexico need to do to put everything in place?
Let’s start with tradition. New Mexico hasn’t exactly tasted championship champagne throughout it’s 100 plus year existence of playing on the gridiron. Many great and notable names have coached and played at UNM such as Pro Hall of Fame head coach Marv Levy who lead the Buffalo Bills to four Super Bowl appearances. Brian Urlacher, the Chicago Bear legend, just recently entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has solidified himself as an all time great player.
But what really makes Tradition? It’s the rivalries! If you look at the top 10 revenue producing college football programs, you will discover that they all have rivalries with each other. Oklahoma vs. Texas; Alabama vs Auburn; Ohio State vs. Michigan. Rivalries bring big crowds, once a year type excitement. These are the games that you mark on your calendar. For any program, they generate revenue and exposure.
How is New Mexico doing in the rivalry department? New Mexico and New Mexico State have been playing each other for over a century. This rivalry has drawn the largest crowds each season. It is one bright spot for each program. New Mexico has had many other rivals. Yet, they all seem to be fading away into the history books of college football.
Do you remember when New Mexico played Arizona on a yearly basis? This yearly rivalry went from 1908 to 1977. It reads like a tombstone now. New Mexico and Texas Tech have been going at it since 1932. Unfortunately, it has been a lopsided one for the Lobos. How about classic rivals Utah and BYU? Lobo fan, do you remember what it was like to hate BYU? Wouldn’t it be fun to hate them again? How about UTEP down South. All these rivals brought tradition to the Lobo program.
Ultimately, with a lack of continuous rivalry games, New Mexico football has suffered a large hit in tradition and much needed revenue for growth of the program. Each one of these rivals has brought large crowds in the past. At this point in time, UNM needs rivals like never before in it’s history.
Coaching has been a hot topic in Loboland since the day Rocky Long left the roost proclaiming that UNM needed a miracle worker to reach gridiron glory. Ever since the formation of the BCS and now the College Football Playoff, the landscape of college football has changed drastically with conference realignment and the explosion of the haves, and the have-nots.
Coaching salaries have reached a never before seen level. In a recent study by USAToday in conjunction with AthleticDirectorU.com. The study finds that Assistant coaches at Power Five schools are paid on average of 400k. In comparison, the group of five which New Mexico is in, the average is at 140k. The top assistant coaches are now reaching over one million in compensation.
One day head coach Bob Davie will no longer lead New Mexico Football. When that day comes, it is reasonable to expect a growing contention of fans calling for a young “hot” assistant to lead New Mexico football into the future. It is also conceivable that a young “hot” assistant will have to take a pay cut in order to take the reigns of Lobo football. New Mexico could potentially have to reach deep into it’s wallet for a future coaching staff.
One aspect to look at is longevity. Just like Lobo basketball, Lobo football hasn’t had much success retaining head coaches for any considerable time other than Rocky Long’s 10 years on the South Campus. Bob Davie is now in his seventh year, and had actually the possibility of surpassing Rocky Long, had the stars aligned
With coaching salaries rising, new practice facilities have been built, older ones have been renovated. Stadiums have been expanded or built from the ground up. This trend has been occurring across the nation. One only has to look so far to see this trend growing.
The Mountain West Conference of which New Mexico is a member, has seen improvements from a majority of its members. Utah State has improved it’s prospects with a new press box. Wyoming has gone all in with a complete renovation of it’s press box along with suites and a new scoreboard.
Colorado State has made the biggest leap with a brand new stadium. Something that might have been unheard of about a decade ago. SDSU could potentially build a new home stadium in the future. Boise State has lead this trend over the last decade with continuous upgrades.
New Mexico, on the other hand, has made a few improvements with renovation of locker rooms and coaches offices. Ultimately, Dreamstyle Stadium which opened in 1960 will need a major renovation at some point in the future. To put into perspective, Dreamstyle Stadium’s south end scoreboard may be older than the millennial generation.
Tradition, coaching, and facilities all play the role of bringing in recruits. When Head Coach Bob Davie accepted the role as head coach, he stated, “We aren’t going to out star anybody.” Recruiting classes are rated from one star to five stars. New Mexico has hovered around the one to two star level.
With very little homegrown talent, New Mexico has had to recruit neighboring states almost exclusively. This has been the norm for decades. New Mexico high school football has improved over the years. Yet, the talent pool hasn’t been large enough to adequately fill New Mexico’s roster.
With cutbacks in other sports, Lobo football is also seeing reduction in it’s recruiting budget and other amenities, whether its Head Coach Bob Davie’s staff or a future football staff. This situation will persist until significant amounts of investment and revenue enter the program’s coffers.
College football television contracts will be up for negotiation in the near future. With cable possibly giving way to the internet and it’s streaming capabilities, we will undoubtedly see the chaos that ensued during the last television negotiations. Conference realignment, which gave us all ulcers, more than likely will reoccur again as institutions position themselves for what could be a smaller piece of the pie.
Since there is very little tradition, New Mexico football has the opportunity to write it’s own destiny. New Mexico has reached the crossroads. Without action, the program will be on the outside looking in. That is a future that Lobo fans may not be able to stomach
One thing that can be learned about a thin margin for error is that there are two ways it can go. If you have everything in place you can overcome many errors. If you are devoid in many areas, you have to be perfect, and that still may not be enough.
As for now, we will all be waiting with baited breath as UNM decides the future of Lobo football. It’s your move UNM.
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