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Gonzales: Never say never on Long returning to UNM

Former San Diego State and UNM head coach Rocky Long, shown at the New Mexico Bowl in December, could return to the Lobos and join Danny Gonzales’ coaching staff.

Rocky Long was in Albuquerque on Monday, and with an opening on University of New Mexico football head coach Danny Gonzales’ staff for a defensive assistant, it made for an interesting dynamic, Gonzales said on Tuesday.

Gonzales spoke to his friend and longtime mentor, but he told the Journal on Tuesday that there were never any “concrete discussions” about Long returning to his alma mater and rejoining the program for which he was head coach from 1998 to 2008.

“I’m not holding a spot for him,” said Gonzales, who turned 44 on Monday.

“But, you never say never.”

Long was in town for his wife, Debby, to meet with a close friend, Gonzales said.

Gonzales said when he was named the Lobos’ head coach on Dec. 17, he told Long to “come on over” and join him at UNM. Back then, Long was preparing for the New Mexico Bowl as San Diego State head coach. Long told Gonzales, “this is your time,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales will be UNM’s defensive coordinator in addition to head coach, he said last week when announcing the majority of his coaching staff.

Two spots, however, remain open.

“I’ve known that man for 20 years and he’s been unbelievable to work with,” Gonzales said of Long. “I’ve seen him as an assistant and as a head coach. He’s great in any role. If you worry about someone taking away your job, then you’re in trouble. I know for a fact that he doesn’t want my job.”

Long, who will be 70 on Jan. 27, retired as San Diego State head coach last week. He went 81-38 and took the Aztecs to a bowl game in all nine seasons he was head coach. His final campaign ended with a 48-11 win over Central Michigan in the Dec. 21 New Mexico Bowl that capped a 10-3 season.

Long left the door slightly open to return to coaching when he said he was retiring “at this point,” during his press conference. Brady Hoke, who became the Aztecs’ head coach upon Long’s announcement, joked then that he would recruit Long to return as SDSU’s defensive coordinator.

It’s no laughing matter now, especially because former SDSU defensive coordinator Zach Arnett, who played for La Cueva and the Lobos, left the Aztecs to work in the same role at Syracuse. Long previously had told the San Diego Union-Tribune that he did not want to stand in the way of Arnett being the Aztecs’ defensive coordinator.

“I love coaching, but I don’t necessarily love all the things that head coaches do,” Long said. He said he’d prefer an assistant’s job.

USC is looking for a defensive coordinator, as is Mississippi State, which now has Mike Leach as its head coach. Leach is a good friend of Long’s.

Nick Rolovich left Hawaii to become the head coach at Washington State, where he will be assembling a staff also.

Gonzales is aware Long could choose to go back to SDSU or simply remain retired.

“I want him to be happy and do what’s best for him,” Gonzales said. “I know that he loves the University of New Mexico. He’s a Lobo through and through. He didn’t say either way … what he wanted to do.”

Gonzales would not say if he has made any offers to prospective candidates for the final two spots on his staff. They could be filled as early as the end of this week or stretch beyond Feb. 5, when the next signing period for recruits begins.

UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez reached out to Long to gain perspective on what the program needed during the coaching search that led to hiring Gonzales. Nuñez said he was aware that Long was back in town, but that he did not meet with him.

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