The Mountain West Conference shut down football on Monday with the goal only to postpone competition yet with no date scheduled to start because of concerns about COVID-19 and player safety.
That has done little to sway University of New Mexico coach Danny Gonzales’ goal to turn around the Lobos and make them winners, conference championship contenders. With that goal in mind, Gonzales says he won’t stop workouts – 20 hours a week, in small groups – pushing the players to improve and build strength so that when they do get the green light they’ll be ready.
“I refuse to give up,” Gonzales, a former Lobo player who attended UNM games as a child, said regarding his goal to rebuild his alma mater’s program. “I refuse to give in. I refuse not to fight the good fight for a place that I love. Somebody is going to have to finish me off before I give up on that. My belief in how special this place can be, nobody is going to take that from me. I can promise you that. Not a pandemic. Nobody.”
Last week, the Lobos were preparing with the thought they could start Sept. 26 after the MWC had announced fall sports would be delayed only, with a schedule model of eight conference games and up to two non-conference contests.
The switch to call off the fall season upset his team, Gonzales said, but he said he has told his players not to feel sorry for themselves. They need to continue to work toward the goal of turning around the program that has gone 8-28 over the past three seasons.
Gonzales believes he can use the new scenario to his advantage.
“From the parameter of not having a scheduled football game, we’re going to adjust how we do things,” Gonzales said. “We’re going to take this opportunity to get bigger, faster, stronger within the protocols we currently have.”
Gonzales said he has met with his coaching staff, and in particular strength coach Jimmy Carson, asking: How can we get the most out of our football team? They must find a way to do it while following guidelines and protocols, and reminding the players to stay away from situations that can make them susceptible to contracting the virus.
Gonzales believes when the players are at the UNM practice facilities, they are at “the safest place they can possibly be” and that it is a “very controlled environment.” It’s when they are away that it becomes challenging, yet Gonzales said he has been impressed with the players’ dedication to acting responsibly because they want to play. He said if they don’t feel safe, they can opt out and not worry about losing their scholarship.
“What we’re asking them to do is not easy,” he said.
New Mexico is averaging about 187 new virus cases a day over the past week, a 43% drop from July 29, when cases peaked at an average of 330 cases a day, the Journal reported on Tuesday, when the state reported three more coronavirus deaths and 202 new cases of the disease.
The Mid-American Conference set off the chain reaction on Saturday when it decided to shut down its fall season. Down went the MWC on Monday. And, on Tuesday, the Big Ten and Pac-12 followed suit, to cancel the fall sports season with the hope to play in the spring or earlier.
The Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conference did not alter their plans despite those decisions and sent out statements that they make decisions based on their own medical advisory groups.
The Mountain West Conference, as well as the Pac-12 and Big Ten, relied on their respective medical advisory groups.
“You see numbers,” Gonzales said. “You see different experts’ opinions. How we can proceed. Whether it’s safe. Whether it’s not safe. Right now it’s all opinions.”