ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Barry Sacks seemed surprised to hear himself described as “animated” while out on the practice field.
“Who told you that?” the New Mexico Lobos’ new defensive line coach asked.
When told the observation was made by his new boss, UNM head coach Bob Davie – supported by a couple of his defensive linemen – Sacks didn’t disagree.
“I guess so,” he said. Still, one got the impression he would have preferred “enthusiastic” or “energetic.”
In any case, and by any adjective, he was just being Barry Sacks.
“You can’t ask young people to be that way,” he said, “if you’re not that way yourself.”
To the above adjectives, regarding Sacks, add “grateful.”
“I’m sure glad (Davie has) given me this opportunity,” Sacks said. “I’m really, really, extremely happy about it, and the potential here is boundless.”
For 11 years, Sacks had coached with that same boundless enthusiasm at Nevada under head coaches Chris Tormey and Chris Ault. Then, unexpectedly, Ault retired after the Wolf Pack’s 49-48 loss to Arizona in the 2012 New Mexico Bowl.
Sacks left for California, hired that December by first-year Cal coach Sonny Dykes to coach the Golden Bears’ defensive tackles.
“Barry has been one of the top defensive coaches in the country for a long time,” Dykes said at the time.
Presumably, that didn’t change in 13 months. Yet, in January, after the Bears struggled defensively in 2013, Dykes let Sacks go.
“Coaching’s an interesting game,” Sacks said. “When you get an opportunity, grab it by both hands, hang on and take charge, that’s for sure.”
Opportunity arrived, in the form of a call from Davie.
Davie, in fact, had tried unsuccessfully to hire Sacks away from Nevada after the 2011 season on the suggestion of Jeff Mills, then UNM’s defensive coordinator.
And, yes, coaching’s an interesting game. Now Sacks is here and Mills is gone – fired after last season.
“Obviously it’s kind of ironic that Jeff is gone and Barry’s here,” Davie said. “But it’s a crazy profession, the way things work.”
Crazy good, sometimes.
Years ago, Sacks, while at Nevada, drove to Colorado Springs to visit his friend Tim DeRuyter – now the head coach at Fresno State, then an assistant at Air Force.
On the way back, Sacks decided to dip south through Albuquerque. He saw University Stadium, the Pit, Isotopes Park. He liked the scenery: mountains on the east, the plateau on the west.
“I thought, wow this is an incredibly good-looking place,” he said.
So, when Davie called, for the second time offering him a job, he was quick to accept.
“You know, if you had a crystal ball, you would have not wasted the last two years and been here right away,” he said.
Sacks, 56, is a 27-year coaching veteran – having worked at Portland State, Boise State, Adams State, San Jose State and the Arena Football League’s San Jose SaberCats before arriving at Nevada in 2002.
At UNM, he rejoins wide receivers coach Scott Baumgartner, with whom he worked nine years at Nevada.
He likes the view – and not just of the Sandias.
“I think the place is waiting to explode,” he said. “It reminds me of those early days at Nevada. All of a sudden when you step over that hump, it will explode. That’s what’s gonna happen here. Just watch.”
TALKIN’ ABOUT PRACTICE: The Lobos practiced in pads Saturday for the first time this spring, with a tempo and energy that pleased the head coach.
A deeper roster than he had the past two years, Davie added, permitted more contact than in the previous two springs at this stage – just one week into the session.
“Really good tempo,” Davie said. “This is the first time that I’ve really done live contact the first day in pads where you actually tackle guys, take guys down.
“What we have to do is simulate (game conditions) as much as we can, not sugar-coat things. We’ve got to put the ball down and go, see what happens.”