Perhaps it was fitting that both head coaches in the New Mexico Bowl did not show up to Wednesday’s team announcement luncheon at the Canyon Club.
The coaching situations at Utah State (10-2) and North Texas (9-3) are unsettled as the teams inch closer to the 13th annual New Mexico Bowl, which takes place Dec. 15 at noon at Dreamstyle Stadium.
For Utah State, interim head coach Frank Maile appeared on a video monitor and read a message about how the Aggies are motivated to play against North Texas in pursuit of an 11th win.
Matt Wells, who had two assistant coaching stints at New Mexico, was recently lured to Texas Tech and away from Utah State, where he was named the MWC Coach of the Year.
North Texas coach Seth Littrell did not provide a video message. Instead, Mean Green players Kelvin Smith, E.J. Ejiya and Joe Ozougwu were shown in separate videos expressing their excitement for the bowl game.
Littrell has been speculated as a candidate to become Kansas State’s next coach.
Jeff Siembieda, the New Mexico Bowl executive director and the luncheon’s emcee, said the teams’ coaches did not show up because they are heavily involved with recruiting as the National Letter of Intent signing day period for football approaches on Dec. 19.
Siembieda touted this game as the best New Mexico Bowl in its history. He said he is thrilled with a matchup featuring two high-powered offenses and the bowl game that possesses the best winning percentage outside of the top six major NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision bowl games.
“When we get a matchup like this, it makes me feel good,” Siembieda said.
Gildan’s contract as title sponsor of the bowl has ended, and Siembieda said the bowl game is close to naming a new title sponsor.
That’s not the only news that could be revealed in the coming days. Utah State might name a new coach before the game, and North Texas could be without a head coach before the kickoff.
“When you have success, your coach is going to be talked about,” said North Texas athletic director Wren Baker, who spoke at the luncheon. “I view it as a positive thing, as the alternative is to not have success. We’ve always taken care of (Littrell) in terms of his contract. If someone comes knocking from the Power Five, there’s an obligation for him to listen.
“But I also know he loves North Texas and the team he has coming back, and we have a great shot to retain him. If the day comes he is excited about another job and takes it, I think we have a program that can have continued success.”
Coleman Barnes, Utah State’s deputy director of athletics, also spoke at the luncheon. He said there is no deadline to name the Aggies’ new coach.
Barnes said that once the news of Wells departing to Texas Tech became official, Wells met with the team – as did Utah State athletic director John Hartwell – and told the players how the transition process would play out.
Wells has made some decisions on his Texas Tech coaching staff, which includes highly regarded offensive coordinator David Yost joining him with the Red Raiders.
Yost helped engineer an Aggie offense that ranked third in the nation and led all Group of 5 programs in scoring (47.2 ppg).
In addition to two explosive teams in the bowl, Siembieda said he takes pride that the event embraces the Southwest culture and the Albuquerque community.
Marcellus Medina and his wife, Elizabeth, of the Zia Pueblo attended the event. They are the artists who designed the New Mexico Bowl trophy, which is a vase Elizabeth sculpted and on which Marcellus painted designs that include Utah State, North Texas and the Zia symbol.
Native American badges are the awards for the offensive and defensive players of the game.
Jim Gay, the board chairman of Visit Albuquerque, was also part of the program. He welcomed the teams and showed the area’s fun spots during a slide show.
The teams arrive next Wednesday, when more events will take place.