When University of New Mexico football head coach Danny Gonzales spoke to Derrick Baker about becoming the Lobos’ director of athletic performance there wasn’t so much discussion about the past two seasons at UNM.
Gonzales only wanted to talk about the future with Baker and what’s needed for the Lobos to reach their ultimate goal of winning a Mountain West Conference championship.
Gonzales’ demand was simple.
“He just said we need to get stronger,” said Baker, 31, who was named the Lobos’ director of athletic performance last month. “There was talk about injury prevention. We just keep moving forward. There’s always room for improvement.”
Baker comes from San Diego State, where he began working six years ago under then-head coach Rocky Long, who is now the Lobos’ defensive coordinator.
Baker said he left SDSU, a successful program that finished ranked No. 25 in the nation, so that he could work in a director role and help Gonzales and his staff rebuild the Lobos. Baker said that it helped that he was familiar with Gonzales, who was an SDSU assistant, calling the situation, “a good fit.”
“The vision is to bring New Mexico back, to get them to the top of the Mountain West,” Baker said. “Coming from a program that’s had that type of success, I want to bring it here. This is my first director role. I want to make a name for myself, a name for the program and put my stamp on the way things are done around here.”
During his final press conference of the regular season, Gonzales expressed disappointment about the lack of strength in 2021. Gonzales has always wanted the Lobos to be known as the toughest team in the MWC, yet he said he watched his team come up short in the strength department against other teams late in the season. The Lobos finished 3-9 in Gonzales’ second season at his alma mater.
That compelled Gonzales to make a change and not retain Jimmy Carson as the strength and conditioning coach.
“We’re not strong enough,” Gonzales said on Nov. 30. “Some of that is not (Carson’s) fault. We go basically a year and a half without lifting because of COVID and we’re in Vegas. That sets a big demeanor of your team in the offseason. That needs to improve.”
Senior safety Jerrick Reed said he noticed the Lobos struggled during the second half of the season. But he believes things will be different this off-season. The Lobos began workouts this past week and will start spring football Feb. 8.
“The main focus is for us to get stronger,” Reed said. “We had a lot of injuries, a lot of concussions. That was because we didn’t take the weight room seriously. We just gotta get stronger, and that will lead to winning games, winning conference.”
Reed said he doesn’t want to have any regrets in 2022 and wonders if he had just pushed harder in the weight room, would that have made the difference during the season?
As a senior, he said he wants to motivate the younger players on the team and have them use maximum effort as well. His early impressions of Baker is that he will also be pushing the Lobos.
“I’m looking for accountability,” Baker said. “I’m looking for just working, just getting the work done. It doesn’t always have to be pretty. A lot of times it won’t be, but I want that to translate to what we do on the field. I want to be bigger, faster, stronger. More of that is the mental aspect. Always going to keep going even when you’re not supposed to.”
Baker said that ultimately it’s impossible to prevent injury but he will do his best job to help the Lobos avoid the injury bug.
He said more neck exercises and strengthening the upper neck area should help prevent concussions and stingers. He said he also plans for the Lobos to work on ankle mobility and stability.
As for leaving SDSU, where he worked with Aztec track and field/cross country, men’s golf and football, he said it was just time to move on to UNM.
“I’m ready to grow,” Baker said. “I think I have the knowledge. I think I have the experience to take on a new role and take on a new challenge. I know the coaching staff here. I know what they’re about. I thought it was a perfect time for me to branch out and help take New Mexico to the top.”
NOTE: Running back Aaron Dumas, who led UNM in rushing as a true freshman in 2021, is set to transfer to Washington, he announced on Twitter on Sunday.
Dumas, a former El Paso Americas High standout, rushed for 658 yards and two touchdowns on 136 carries (4.8 yards per carry) in 11 games, starting in five. He announced he had entered the transfer portal earlier this month.