|Did Rocky Long deserve more from New Mexico fans?|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 19 November 2008 01:02|
One day after Long stepped down after 11 seasons as New Mexico's coach, Mendenhall complained Tuesday about what he perceived as a lack of community support for Long's hard work and success.
It echoed an issue Long cited when he stepped down Monday. While Long's 65-69 record is modest compared with more renowned coaches and programs, it's by far the best in New Mexico's mostly long-suffering history.
Yet without better fan support, the former Lobo quarterback concluded he couldn't produce a conference title.
``I don't see it happening with me as the head coach,'' Long said.
Mendenhall knows Long as well as anyone in the sport. They worked together at Oregon State in the mid-1990s and Mendenhall was a defensive assistant at New Mexico from 1998-2002.
``Coach Long has shaped my coaching philosophy more than any other coach,'' Mendenhall said on the Mountain West teleconference.
oach said he has modeled himself after Long's work ethic, his meticulous preparation, a steadfast belief in his players' abilities and a refusal to acknowledge critics' claims.
``I admire his courage and integrity to walk away,'' Mendenhall said. ``He has done a phenomenal job and now he's ready for someone else to take over. ... I admire it. It is remarkable in today's world of college athletics.''
Meanwhile, New Mexico athletic director Paul Krebs met with reporters to outline his vision for the next coach.
That person, Krebs said, must be ``a very, very strong recruiter,'' run an exciting offense that puts fans in the seats, be enthusiastic about promoting the program in the community and have strong leadership skills.
``We will work very hard to find the right coach,'' Krebs said. ``I am extremely confident we will find the right individual.''
He called the New Mexico job ``very attractive,'' thanks to advances made under Long, and said his phone was ringing Tuesday with agents, coaches and athletic directors lobbying for their clients and assistants.
The university has hired a national search firm.
``There are a lot of moving parts to this process. There are a lot of dynamics in play. What's most important is that we get the right individual,'' said Krebs, who as Bowling Green's AD in 2001 gave Urban Meyer his first head coaching job.
ing a hire but named Danny Gonzales as interim coach. The defensive assistant will oversee recruiting, academics and offseason conditioning until the top job is filled.
News of Long's decision came as a shock around the Mountain West.
``I was floored,'' Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. ``Rocky Long is a terrific person. He is the epitome of what a football coach is all about. He's hard-nosed and tough. I hope the word 'old-school' is not derogatory, but he's an old-school coach.''
TCU coach Gary Patterson, a former New Mexico assistant who was passed over when Long got the job in 1998, said the Lobos have made tremendous strides under Long and the job represents a great opportunity for his successor.
The Lobos have made five bowl appearances in seven seasons since 2002, and last year's team ended the school's 46-year drought without a bowl victory, beating Nevada 23-0 in the New Mexico Bowl.
On Long's watch, New Mexico built an indoor practice facility and is making plans for a stadium expansion.
``It will be interesting to see who they find who they think can be better,'' Patterson said.
But when it comes to elevating New Mexico's program to a league title - perhaps even making a Bowl Championship Series run - the recurring theme centers on fan support.
cruit in basketball because The Pit is nationally famous but the football program has nothing like that.
Not yet, anyway.
``The community has to get behind a good football coach and fill up the stadium every single game, win or lose, jump in with both feet and make this place special if they want to get to the top,'' Long said.
Mendenhall saw those frustrations up close during his time at New Mexico but said it wasn't until he became BYU's head coach that he fully understood what Long was experiencing.
In any case, Mendenhall agreed the community culture must change to make football an emphasis before New Mexico can achieve Long's goal. He's puzzled that the stadium rarely filled up, despite Long's unprecedented run of success.
``I believe Coach Long, the assistant coaches and the players wanted it more than the collective community at large,'' Mendenhall said. ``I probably just made some enemies by saying that.
``But in seeing it, the way he works, the way their staff works and their players work, the success they had, to see it not rapidly generate more interest in the program, that to me is disappointing. They deserved more.''