Bob Davie is a tough man to figure out.
At times, he can be surly and condescending. Other times, he can be charming and good-natured.
I’ve seen him berate people first-hand for the most inconsequential of reasons, but I’ve also seen him show surprising kindness.
Case in point: During the University of New Mexico football coach’s weekly news conference Tuesday, Davie talked about watching the Lobos’ 66-14 loss to then-No.7 Notre Dame on television (he did not travel with the team to South Bend, Ind., due to the “serious medical condition” he suffered after UNM’s season-opening win over Sam Houston State on Aug. 31).
Marty Watts, who co-hosts a Saturday morning program with Fred Hultberg on ESPN Radio 101.7 FM, asked Davie whether he cringed when he saw Notre Dame wide receiver Javon McKinley break four or five Lobo tackles on his way to a 65-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter to give the Fighting Irish a 28-0 lead.
“No, Marty, I was happy,” Davie said, clearly agitated by the question. “I jumped up, and I was excited as hell.”
After the news conference ended, Davie sought out Watts and said, “Marty, you’re not mad at me, are you?”
In trying to decipher Davie, what has baffled me most is — after nearly eight years and everything that’s happened during his tenure at New Mexico — why he is still coaching the Lobos.
Davie announced Tuesday that he will not attend UNM’s in-state rivalry game this week with New Mexico State at Dreamstyle Stadium. He wants to make sure he doesn’t have any setbacks during his recovery from whatever occurred on Aug. 31 (Davie still has not given any details).
“I’ll get signed off with Dr. Joanne Davie,” the coach said, referring to his wife, “make sure I get it in ink that she gives me the green light — because you don’t want that wrath.”
Davie will turn 65 on Sept. 30 — the unofficial retirement age, or at least the age when most folks can sign up for Medicare.
The coach did an admirable job bringing back the football program from the abyss, as it had lost 37 of 40 games prior to his first season in 2012 (although he actually arrived on campus in November of 2011).
Davie has a 34-55 record as UNM’s coach. He is both the second-winningest and second-losingest coach in school history (Rocky Long holds the record for both at 65-69). Davie built the program to a nine-win crescendo in 2016, but he also has just two winning seasons among his first seven years and is 7-19 since the magical 9-4 campaign three years ago.
He has repeatedly mentioned UNM’s financial issues among an ever-increasing arms race in facilities and other resources in the Mountain West and college football in general.
Davie received a 30-day suspension in 2018 after an outside investigation looked into the football program’s handling of student-athlete misconduct cases, although the investigation could not conclude that football coaches or staff obstructed with criminal investigations or misconduct cases.
The suspension impacted Davie’s family enough that daughter Audra wrote a letter to the editor in the Albuquerque Journal that was published March 13, 2018, protesting UNM’s punishment.
And then there are the “damn fans,” as former coach Rocky Long is infamous for calling the Lobo faithful upon his exit in 2008.
UNM’s best attendance in Davie’s tenure was 2013 when the average attendance for Lobo home games was 23,537. Attendance has been on the decline since 2015, and even in 2016 with all the winning, the attendance was just 20,277 per game — and that included the 29,688 fans who attended the 23-20 New Mexico Bowl victory over UTSA.
The 13,974 fans who attended this year’s season-opening win over Sam Houston State may have been at least a 31-year low — although its media guide doesn’t include such figures.
(And that 13,974 was the announced figure. Those who were actually at the game could plainly see that figure counted many of those who weren’t.)
The media guide does list the average attendance for the 1988 season at 11,384 per game.
It stands to reason that fans would show up if the team was winning, but that hasn’t exactly been the case under Davie’s reign. Heck, when Long complained, UNM was coming off an eighth consecutive season of 29,000-plus fans.
Of course, the 2008 season averaged about 8,600 fewer than Rocky’s high of 38,341 in 2005. UNM had 17,411 in season ticket sales that season alone.
If you look at Davie’s situation in “totality” (something Davie likes to say) — lack of fan support, lack of money, his health issues and what he considered unfair treatment by his suspension, he could be forgiven if he simply decided enough is enough and to hand off the headache that is Lobo football to someone else.
After 2018, there was doubt whether Davie would be back this year. If Davie can’t show significant improvement in 2019, he may not be back in 2020.
There is an obvious candidate waiting in the wings to take over in Danny Gonzales, the current defensive coordinator at Arizona State and UNM alum whose undefeated Sun Devils are giving up only 7 points and 303 yards per game in three contests in 2019.
But with the evident lack of support internally from the cash-strapped athletic department and externally from fans, would Gonzales even want the job?
How hard is it to win at New Mexico? It took Mike Locksley two weeks at Maryland to match his win total — two — during his almost 2 1/2 years at UNM.
During the offseason, Davie said he wanted to leave the program in better shape than when he took it over; returning the program to respectability is “personal” to him.
I believe it. Why else would he still be here, willing to face the wrath of his wife in his pursuit to return to the Lobo sidelines? For whatever reason, he’s invested in Lobo football.
I can’t say I think Davie is the long-term answer for the program. And I intend on continuing to call him out for things he does or says that I vehemently disagree with — such as saying Lobo football players are in harm’s way if they don’t stay in a hotel the night before home games.
For the record, they do belong in a hotel together before home games — but not because they might be in personal danger if they’re not.
But you do have to admire Davie for wanting to stick it out at UNM, especially when you consider his point of view.
Which is why the community should also ride it out with him — and the team — through the 2019 season and show more support.
APPLAUSE FOR TUIOTI DECISION: Davie confirmed that he thinks Tevaka Tuioti is the best quarterback on the roster in his explanation for naming him the starter for the NMSU game on Tuesday.
With the family issues that have befallen Tuioti — he lost his maternal grandfather during fall camp, and Davie said that Tuioti learned his paternal grandfather died Friday as the team was getting ready to travel to Notre Dame — his playing only two quarters this season makes more sense.
Davie, however, also said he was on his cell phone with his son and UNM tight ends coach Clay Davie during the game with the Irish — so he had communication with acting head coach Saga Tuitele and offensive coordinator Joe Dailey, and there was some consideration of bringing in Tuioti before the second half.
It would’ve been interesting to see whether UNM could’ve gathered any momentum with Tuioti playing earlier in South Bend.
Greg Archuleta is the assistant editor at Enchantment Sports. He was the New Mexico Lobo football beat writer for the Albuquerque Journal for 12 years and worked as a professional journalist for more than two decades. Look for Greg’s “Koz and Effect” columns throughout the football season. Why the word “Koz?” You can as him why, or reach him with any other tidbits, tips or inquiries at enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.