New Lobo football coach Danny Gonzales was introduced at halftime of the UNM men’s basketball team on Tuesday at the Pit (courtesy/UNM).
By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
Save a couple of seasons, it’s been a Long and Rocky decade for University of New Mexico football.
Ever since the departure of Rocky Long — firing or resignation or whatever — as Lobo coach following the 2008 season, the program has pretty much been in a free fall on the field, off the field and in the stands.
Sure, recently fired Bob Davie — yes fired, not resignation or whatever — had those back-to-back winning seasons in 2015 and 2016, but there were a lot of smoke and mirrors in the combined 16-10 record of those two campaigns and he was 35-64 overall in his eight years.
And before that, of course, there was the dismal Mike Locksley-era.
Even counting Long’s last season, the Lobos have won just 38 of their last 139 games.
In Mountain West Conference play, they have won just 20 of their past 91 games.
But the times, Mr. Dylan, certainly may be a-changin’.
And if Wednesday’s news conference introducing Albuquerque’s own Danny Gonzales as new Lobo head coach is any indication, those times have already started to change.
The 42-year-old Gonzales, a Valley High and UNM alum, was extremely impressive in the gathering at Dreamstyle Arena – The Pit in front of about 200 folks that included media, boosters, current Lobo players, former coaches, administrators and family.
Gonzales, who was hired away from Arizona State where he was defensive coordinator under Herm Edwards, spoke about his passion for the Lobo program — one in which he was a player and a coach — and what he will do to make it a winner.
He spoke about doing the right things for the players in his program, and how those players will do the right in the classroom and the community.
He spoke about the importance of keeping New Mexico kids in New Mexico and giving the fans a program to be excited about and proud of.
He spoke about his love for his native Albuquerque and what it means to be home again.
His words were encouraging, inspirational and honest.
Sure, they are just words and I’ve heard many words from many new collegiate coaches over the years.
But these words felt different.
Anyone who has ever met Gonzales — which included many at the presser and includes so many more throughout Albuquerque — knows these words came from the heart.
“I’m home,” were his first words when being introduced at halftime in the Pit of the Lobos’ basketball game against Grand Canyon on Tuesday night.
After Wednesday’s news conference, he told me those words weren’t planned.
“They just happened. That’s how everything hit me,” he said.
None of Gonzales’ words on Tuesday or Wednesday came from a coach trying to race out of another school before it pushed him out, or an assistant looking to use UNM as a stepping stone, categories so many Lobo hires of the past fell into.
Who knows what the future holds and what Gonzales will do if a Power 5 school comes calling a few years down the road?
But he’s here because it’s where he feels he belongs.
And UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez agrees.
Nuñez said Gonzales’ five-year contract has a base pay of $400,000 with a total package worth around $700,000 — which is near the low end of coaches in the Mountain West Conference.
“The decision we came to was to also be able to offer on his focus of being able to build the program and building it the right way,” Nuñez said. ” It’s not about dollars and cents for his salary for him. It’s more about making his program better with resources. So we’re going to move some of the money over to assistant coaches pool to allow him to have more money in the assistant coaches pool.
“Those are the opportunities that he’s trying to bring to his program and the sacrifices he’s making. Like he said. it’s not about dollars and cents. It’s about having the opportunity to lead this program.”
Gonzales is here for all the right reasons.
And he is the right man for the job at the right time.
For all of us New Mexico natives, Danny Gonzales is an easy guy to root for.
The guess here is that his team will be as well — which will finally lead fans back rooting in Dreamstyle Stadium.
A new decade begins in just two weeks. A new era for Lobo football just began.
And I feel the times are definitely a-changin’.
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for more than four decades, and is one of the most decorated sports journalists in state history. Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio and has been honored nationally for investigative reporting. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.