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Editorial: It’s homecoming and time to assess future of Lobo football

It’s homecoming week at the University of New Mexico. But as the powers that be whip up enthusiasm for festivities leading up to Saturday’s game against the Rainbow Warriors of Hawaii, they also need to huddle up and make some decisions about the football program and coach Bob Davie.

With Saturday’s loss at Wyoming, the Lobos dropped their fourth straight game and fell to 2-5 overall and 0-3 in the Mountain West this year. The more telling statistic: New Mexico is 35-59 under Davie, who is in his eighth year at UNM. The only victories this year are against winless New Mexico State and Sam Houston State.

The 23-10 loss at Wyoming was more respectable than the 35-21 setback in Albuquerque a week before against Colorado State, which had a 1-5 record. Penalties, mistakes, bad decisions, inability to throw the ball and a horrible pass defense sent fans home early.

Prior to Wyoming, UNM ranked dead last in pass defense nationally. Fortunately, Wyoming doesn’t throw much.

Davie and his staff hadn’t been able to decide on a quarterback, but that question now appears moot with the indefinite suspension this week of recent starter Sheriron Jones. He is accused of indecent exposure, according to a criminal complaint. Tevaka Tuioti, a one-time starter who told coaches he would rather not enter a game earlier this season in relief of Jones, will get the nod. None of this is indicative of a program that has its act together.

Davie, who is intense, competitive, dedicated and knowledgeable, had a winning record in five years as head coach at Notre Dame and was a high-profile ESPN TV analyst. He knows that at this point in his tenure, it doesn’t cut it to say every week that the Lobos just have to get better. After the Colorado State loss, he said, “I’ll take full responsibility for us. That’s what this profession is. There’s a scoreboard on what we do, and the bottom line is you’re expected to win.”

Davie, who had a serious health scare at the start of the season, has a contract with an annual salary of $422,690 through 2021, so it would cost UNM about $850,000 to cut him loose at the end of this season without some kind of reasonable deal.

Athletic director Eddie Nuñez said recently, “Wins and losses are important, as much as we would all like to say otherwise.” As for fan expectations, he said, “Do I feel like our football team should be competing for a bowl game? Yes.”

Well, that would take six wins and a miraculous turnaround. And that hands the ball over to Nuñez and president Garnett Stokes. Neither was here when Davie’s contract was extended after a couple of successful seasons and before the current three-year tailspin.

They can stay the course and let the contract run. But the prospect of two more years of empty stadiums, bad football, quarterback drama and beat-down money games on the road is scary. Should UNM jettison Division 1 football and drop down in class? Not a realistic option if it wants to stay in the Mountain West. But if Stokes and Nuñez want a change in the program, they can’t wait until after the season to talk about it. A new coach would need to get into the crucial recruiting game immediately.

It’s true an athletics department that has struggled to make budget and sell football tickets can hardly afford the kind of payout it would take if the parties can’t make a deal.

Then again, can UNM afford to do nothing?

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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