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Rocky Long returning to Lobos as defensive coordinator

Rocky Long, seen here at the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 21, is returning to the Lobos as the defensive coordinator. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Rocky Long is returning to University of New Mexico’s football program to become the Lobos’ defensive coordinator, head coach Danny Gonzales said on Monday.

Long, who turned 70 on Monday, is a former UNM head coach and player and will be reuniting with Gonzales, who played for Long and was an assistant coach on Long’s staff at UNM and San Diego State.

“He wants to be a Lobo,” Gonzales said of Long, who retired from San Diego State as head coach of the Aztecs earlier this month. “He loves this place. He can be an integral part with me to build a great program.”

Long will also coach the linebackers, Gonzales said.

“I spent time with Danny to make sure I wouldnt be a distraction,” Long said in a statement. “I’m excited about the opportunity to help him rebuild our program. My wife and I are excited to get back to Albuquerque and be around lifelong friends.”

Long’s agreement with UNM is for two years, UNM deputy athletic director Dave Williams said. Long will be paid $250,000 in the first year and $300,000 in the second year, Williams said. Long made $878,228 last year as SDSU’s head coach when he guided the Aztecs to a 10-3 record last season that was capped by a 48-11 victory over Central Michigan in the New Mexico Bowl.

Jordan Peterson, who was recently hired at Kansas as the safeties coach, made $170,000 as the Lobos’ defensive coordinator last season when UNM finished 2-10.

Gonzales had asked Long to join him when Gonzales was hired as the Lobos’ head coach Dec. 17. But Long told Gonzales that it was his time, Gonzales said.

When Long retired from San Diego State, he left the door open for a possible return when he said he was retiring “at this point.” Long, at the SDSU press conference, said he preferred being an assistant rather than a head coach.

Gonzales had already named himself UNM’s defensive coordinator when he announced the majority of his coaching staff Jan. 10.

The following week Gonzales said he wasn’t holding a spot for Long, but “never say never” on Long’s return to the Lobos. Long also had the option of returning to SDSU as the Aztecs’ defensive coordinator, per the request of new coach Brady Hoke.

“When he retired from San Diego State I had hope he could come to UNM, but I had no inkling what he was going to do,” Gonzales said. “I was hoping that I could talk him into joining me on this journey.”

Long was 81-38 at SDSU and took the Aztecs to a bowl game in all nine seasons.

Long was especially proud that SDSU won 10 or more games in four of the past five seasons, and won three Mountain West Conference championships under his watch.

Long coached the Lobos from 1998 to 2008. At 65-69, he left as the winningest —and losingest — head coach in UNM football history. He also was an assistant coach with the Lobos from 1978-80.

“He’s the greatest defensive mind in college football,” Gonzales said of his longtime mentor. “He’s been a head coach. He understands what the task is. We have a great relationship. We’ve worked together for 20 years. I’ve used him as a sounding board for 20 years and I can now do it again. It doesn’t get any better.”

The news of Long’s return came on the same day of a Journal report that a female UNM athlete was shot in the leg and suffered non-life threatening injuries at a party early Sunday morning. The party was attended by athletes from numerous Lobo athletic teams, including recruits visiting the campus over the weekend.

All the recruits who were visiting were gone before the early morning shooting the Journal was told by one UNM source.

UNM football had 26 recruits and their families at the university, Gonzales said, with seven verbally committing during the weekend, including Elijah Lash, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound linebacker from Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek, Calif. UNM had seven who had already verbally committed prior to the weekend. Bryce Santana, a 6-foot-3, 260-pound defensive lineman announced he comitted to the Lobs on Monday.

Gonzales said the party is a matter that he is looking into, and that the recruits had a 1 a.m. curfew at the hotel they stayed at.

Athletic director Eddie Nuñez said Long’s return to the Lobos could only happen with Gonzales’ approval. Gonzales showed that he was fired up about Long joining his staff, Nuñez said.

“This was an opportunity to add a coach in Rocky with a wealth of knowledge to go with the passion he has for this university and this city, it’s just huge,” Nuñez said. “Danny has the opportunity to work with someone he has known and trusts. It’s a huge plus for Danny.”

Nuñez reached out to Long during UNM’s recent coaching search for advice and to gain perspective about what the program needed.

Nuñez also sought former Lobo great and Pro Football Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher during the coaching search.

On Twitter, Urlacher retweeted Gonzales’ announcement of Long’s return with a message: “Another great day for UNM Football! The MAN is coming back! #Lobos #CoachLong”

Hank Baskett, the former Lobo star receiver, did the same with his own message: “WOW!!! @CoachGonzUNM pulling out all the stops! Adding one of the greatest coaches in @UNMLoboFB history to his staff! Having played for Coach Long I couldn’t be any more excited about what this means to the state, the fans & the NM high school FB athletes!”

Gonzales said he will still add another position coach to the defense, most likely defensive line, and one for the offense, most likely running backs. David Howes, the former Rio Rancho High School head coach, was named the linebackers coach on Jan. 10. He will remain coaching on defense, for which position is to be determined, Gonzales said.

Derek Warehime, the former Texas assistant who became UNM’s offensive coordinator earlier this month, will be on a two-year contract, that pays $250,125 per year, Williams said.

Joe Dailey, who was recently hired at Boston College as the wide receivers coach, made $225,000 last year as the Lobos’ offensive coordinator.

 

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