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Traveling From Belen to Houston

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mike Nesbitt knew what he wanted — even back when he spent nights and afternoons booming footballs as high and as deep as his leg could muster.

But that was almost 20 years ago when, as a Lobo, he was one of the nation’s best college punters.

He used to coach — with great enthusiasm — the high school football team in his hometown of Belen.

He used to draw up plays as an assistant at a variety of small Texas colleges, then watch as his players darted around the field and tested the capacity of scoreboards.

But now he’s a big-city guy with a big-time job.

Just days into his tenure as the offensive coordinator for the University of Houston, Nesbitt marvels at his good fortune.

“I was lucky to be granted an interview,” he says, and his voice can’t hide his excitement, even over a long-distance phone line.

Luck. That’s what he calls it. But chance carries a man only so far.

It wasn’t luck that got him cups of coffee punting for the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings.

It wasn’t mere fortune that Blinn College won a national junior college title in 2006 with him as its offensive coordinator — or that his West Texas A&M and Stephen F. Austin offensive units put up numbers to envy.

When Tony Levine was promoted and became Houston’s head coach last month, he went looking for an offensive coordinator who could fuel the type of high-powered offense for which the Cougars have become known.

Nesbitt, a fan of Johnny Unitas growing up, has been around the “Air Raid” offense for years.

When Levine last week introduced Nesbitt as his coordinator, he said this:

“Mike has an incredible grasp of the Air Raid offense, and our fans are really going to enjoy the offensive creativity he brings to our program. His track record gives us the most experienced offensive coordinator we’ve had since I have been at UH. Coaches throughout our state have an incredible amount of respect for the way he coaches and teaches the game.”

“It started long time ago,” Nesbitt says. “We were messing around with it at Belen. We started going up to Texas Tech to watch what they were doing.”

Nesbitt, 41, played football for Dave Brummell at Belen, and Brummell is part of a litany of men he credits with sparking his interest in coaching.

“It goes back to coach (Jim) Danner in junior high athletics,” Nesbitt says. “Coach Brummell, Gary Lunsford, Kenny Griego. I had great high school coaches.”

When he arrived at UNM, Nesbitt was part of Dennis Franchione’s rebuilding effort.

“It was a great time,” Nesbitt says. “When I first got there, we were kind of down. By the time I was a senior (in 1993), we had a winning record. We created interest in football again. That’s something we took a little pride in.”

Nesbitt still follows the Lobos and believes they are due for an upswing similar to, if not better than, the time when he was at UNM.

“These things always go in cycles,” he says. “With the coaches they’re hiring and what they are doing, there are a lot of positives. You know it’s going to be good again.”

Nesbitt’s current task is to help keep Houston good.

But he is not naive. He knows the expectations are greater than anywhere else he’s been.

And he loves it.

“There’s a high standard of play right now,” he says. “The last four years (the Cougars) have been one of best offenses in college football history. There’s a level of excellence we want to keep it at. That’s what is intriguing about it.”

Coaching has intrigued him for a long time. Coaching at a major college has long been an ambition.

“You never know if that opportunity is going to come,” he says. “I was real fortunate to be in the right situation. I fell into some good things.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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