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Editorial: Checkbook pain aside, it was time to let Coach Davie go

Paying anyone $845,000 to walk away from a job is a bitter pill to swallow. That’s why “golden parachute” is a pejorative term and why at least some legislators would like to prohibit the practice when it involves public dollars. And the decision to go public just days before the Lobo football team took the field for its final game of the season – though the end was a foregone conclusion to anybody paying attention – is open to criticism.

But there is no question it was time for the era of head football coach Bob Davie at the University of New Mexico to end – despite the fact UNM likely will have to pay his monthly salary of $35,000 until his contract expires at the end of 2021.

The Lobos, beset by injuries, more than their share of bad luck and tragedy in the form of a player’s suicide, took a 44-22 shellacking at the hands of Air Force on Nov. 23, bringing the season tally to 2-9. They ended the season 2-10 after falling to Utah State 38-25 on Saturday.

The Lobos under Davie are 8-28 the past three seasons after his contract was extended by then-Athletics Director Paul Krebs on the heels of a 7-6 season in 2015 and a New Mexico Bowl appearance.

UNM went 9-4 and won the New Mexico Bowl in 2016. Since then, it’s been downhill with the trajectory picking up speed.

Davie, an intense competitor who coached five years at Notre Dame before working as a TV analyst for ESPN, summed it up best after this year’s loss to Colorado State. “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.”

And winning matters, because it puts fans in the stands and money into the athletics program that includes a lot of sports that don’t generate serious revenue. In Saturday’s game there was an announced crowd of about 11,800 that looked to be less than 2,000. To be financially viable, UNM needs around 18,000 tickets sold and 15,000 in the stands. You can’t sell concessions to people who stay home.

Overall, Davie is 35-64 in his eight years here – far from great but better than the 3-33 disaster compiled by his predecessor, Mike Locksley. You don’t have to be a math major to see that’s 38-97 since Krebs pushed out coach Rocky Long.

It will fall to Athletics Director Eddie Nuñez, who made the announcement UNM and Davie had mutually agreed to part ways, to find a successor who won’t break the bank but who he believes can bring Lobo football back to relative prominence and financial success. And it is relative. The Lobos are a long way from being a big-time football program and can’t pay big-time money. (Clemson’s Dabo Swinney last year inked a 10-year, $93 million deal after winning the national championship. Meanwhile, the new deal for Locksley at Maryland, where he’s off to a terrible start, is for $2.5 million a year.)

So with that in mind, it’s Nuñez’s responsibility to find a coach who can successfully compete in the Mountain West Conference – not an impossible task. Surely Albuquerque has as much to offer potential recruits as Laramie, Wyoming.

UNM regents are required to sign off on any financial settlement in excess of $400,000, and that’s likely to be discussed at the next meeting Dec. 10. Presumably, they will have some tough questions for Nuñez and President Garnett Stokes on where they expect to find the money to pay a new coach to come in at the same time they are paying Davie to go away.

It wouldn’t be unreasonable for them to ask whether Division I football is a viable long-term strategy at UNM.

Davie, who began the season with a health emergency in which he collapsed in the locker room and was hospitalized, said that in stepping aside, “I’m proud of what we accomplished at UNM, but we are all disappointed that we have not been able to sustain the success that we achieved and all desire. My family and I will be forever grateful to UNM for giving me the opportunity to coach again.”

Larry Chavez, Dreamstyle Remodeling president and Lobo mega booster, said he would “be honored to have my sons play for Bob Davie. He is a fine individual. A great family man and a very good football coach.”

“Unfortunately,” he said, “things didn’t work out” and there “wasn’t a whole lot of choice for the athletic department.”

Fair enough. Time to move ahead.

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.