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Wright: History suggests Lobo football will get better, but maybe not quickly

A pop quiz for a Sunday morning:

Q: Who was the last head football coach to leave the University of New Mexico with a winning record?

A: Joe Morrison, 18-15-1 from 1980-82.

Q: Who was the last head coach to post a winning record in his first season at UNM?

A: Marv Levy, 7-3 in 1958.

Q: With Bob Davie having coached his last game at UNM – a 38-25 loss to Utah State at Dreamstyle Stadium, finishing off a 2-10 season – what lies ahead for the program?

A: Nothing good, history tells us, at least for a few years to come.

But know this: As athletic director Eddie Nuñez said (and not for the first time) last week, there’s no chance UNM is dropping football or dropping to a lower division.

And know this: Davie’s dismissal – and, of course, that’s what it was, never mind the “mutual agreement” description put forth by UNM – was all about the related issues of too many losses on the field and too few fannies in the seats.

Player behavior? Davie’s low warm-fuzzy quotient? Poor in-state recruiting? The infamous Air Force kneel-down incident? No. I’m not saying such things don’t matter, but only under extreme circumstances (see Briles, Art) do they outweigh what happens between the lines.

Had none of the above happened, and if the head coach was still 8-28 the past three seasons, he could be Tom Hanks and he’d still be gone.

Conversely, if he’s 28-8 the past three seasons, not counting bowl games, none of the above would keep UNM from extending his contract through 2024. At least.

Now, back to our quiz.

Q: What is the cumulative record of UNM coaches in the two-platoon era (1965-present) in their last season on the job?

A: 44-73. That figure includes records of 10-1 and 9-4 posted by Joe Morrison and Dennis Franchione in their final seasons at UNM before leaving for better jobs. But even Fran (33-36) left with a record below .500.

Q: What is the cumulative record of UNM coaches in the two-platoon era in their first season on the job?

A: 25-77-1.

Doing the math, then, it almost always gets worse before it gets better. Joe Lee Dunn followed Morrison’s 10-1 season with a 6-6 campaign but never had a winning season. Rocky Long (more about him later) went 3-9 after replacing Franchione in 1998.

Again, back to our quiz.

Q: Who is the most recent UNM head coach to post a better record in his first season than his predecessor did in his last?

A: Davie, though the bar was set awfully low. He went 4-9 in 2012 after Mike Locksley/George Barlow had gone 1-11 the year before.

In this space, we’ve already discussed what’s happened to Davie’s program since – the halting start, the 16 wins, two bowl bids and a share of a Mountain West Conference in 2015-16, the three-year meltdown that followed and ended on Saturday.

We’ve also discussed, going back a while, the now-irrelevant issue of whether Long resigned or was fired in 2008. What’s relevant now is that, as his final, 4-8 season wound down, Long was saying this program needed a miracle worker and that he wasn’t it.

That said, just as Edith and Archie Bunker would have loved to have a president like Herbert Hoover again, most Lobo fans would love to have a coach like Rocky Long again.

Or maybe someone like New Mexico native, longtime Long assistant and current Arizona State defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales.

Whoever eventually gets the job, no one should expect the kind of dramatic first-year turnaround effected by Jeff Tedford at Fresno State in 2017 (2-10 to 10-4) or by former Colorado State coach Jim McElwain at Central Michigan this year (1-11 to 8-4).

This is New Mexico, after all. And if anyone thinks things can’t get worse, well, they could (see Locksley, Mike).

Without question though, change was needed.

And on we go. Where there’s a Trae Hall, there’s hope.

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