Rick Wright: Gonzales vows to recruit New Mexico kids - Albuquerque Journal

Rick Wright: Gonzales vows to recruit New Mexico kids

Danny Gonzales, a former University of New Mexico assistant coach and player, greets Lobo fans as he enters the Pit with his wife, Sandra, and children Chloe, Abby, Cole, from left, and behind them Jake during a half-time introduction at the UNM – Grand Canyon basketball game in Dreamstyle Arena – The Pit on Tuesday. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Danny Gonzales was knee-high to a kicking tee, or thereabouts, when his father took him to his first New Mexico Lobo football game.

That night, Sept. 6, 1980, the Lobos beat the nemesis Brigham Young Cougars, 25-21 — an outcome that still resonated Wednesday as Gonzales was introduced as UNM’s new football coach.

For starters, that game was Joe Lee Dunn’s first as UNM’s defensive coordinator. It was Dunn’s aggressive scheme that captured the fancy of Rocky Long, then a Lobo assistant, and essentially gave birth to Long’s renowned 3-3-5 defense.

And it was Long, first at UNM and then at San Diego State, who mentored Gonzales in the rudiments and mysteries of the 3-3-5, which Gonzales now will restore at New Mexico.

But, back to that September evening. BYU quarterback Jim McMahon’s personal torturer that night was a 185-pound (no typo) Lobo nose guard named Greg Azar, a former Sandia Matador who had 11 tackles in the game and was named Western Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week.

Azar, an unheralded New Mexico kid, led the way for New Mexico.

Now, Gonzales, a New Mexico kid (Valley High) grown up, pledges to make in-state recruiting a foundation of his program at UNM.

Gonzales came to UNM as a walk-on in 1994, playing first for Dennis Franchione, then for Long.

“Our best players were the kids from New Mexico,” Gonzales said on Wednesday. “It meant something to them. We’re gonna recruit the best New Mexico kids. We’re gonna recruit the best football players that want to be Lobos.

“If they want to be Lobos and they can play, they’re gonna be here.”

As victories became less and less frequent for Bob Davie, Gonzales’ predecessor, the ever-dwindling fan base became more and more critical of his attitude — real or perceived — toward the state.

Davie doesn’t give a rodent’s hiney about New Mexico, the dialog went. Not true. He doesn’t even live here, it continued. Not true. And he doesn’t recruit New Mexico kids. Not true, but …

Demonstrably, Davie didn’t recruit New Mexico the way Long had during his 11-year tenure.

Davie did recruit most in-state prospects who wound up signing with an NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision school. Every year, he brought in other New Mexico players as walk-ons. A number of those eventually were awarded scholarships. Some of those became major contributors.

Long, though, had made a point of signing New Mexico players — 41 in his 11 recruiting classes compared to Davie’s 12 in eight.

A few of Long’s in-state signees, notably running back DonTrell Moore from Roswell, were recruited nationally. Most, like La Cueva linebacker Nick Speegle and Moore’s Roswell teammate, defensive lineman D.J. Renteria, were under-the-radar kids who had few if any other FBS offers.

And they produced admirably. Including Moore, Speegle and Renteria, 10 New Mexico high school products earned all-Mountain West Conference honors (first or second team, or honorable mention) during Long’s 11 seasons. Many others started or made major contributions. There were in-state walk-ons, too.

So, is it that simple? Was in-state recruiting the main reason Long took the Lobos to five bowl games in six years (bowl-eligible in all six)? Is failure to sign enough New Mexico kids the main reason Davie went 8-28 his final three seasons and lost his job?

And will Gonzales’ stated belief in New Mexico kids and his stated passion for his home state in and of themselves make the Lobos winners again?

To all of the above questions, the answer, of course, is no.

It is not, though, as if Gonzales is putting all his recruiting eggs in New Mexico’s basket. No, not at all.

He coached for Long in southern California, for Herm Edwards in the Phoenix area. During his career, he’s had recruiting responsibilities in west Texas and in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

His hiring of staff, he said Wednesday, will hinge in part on where prospective assistants have recruiting contacts.

Still, when perception has reality on the schedule, take perception and give the points. Whether or not the Davie-hates-us stuff was fair or accurate — it was neither — AD Eddie Nuñez’s hiring of a native son is precisely the tonic this disaffected fan base needed.

There’s every evidence he can coach, too.

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