LAS CRUCES – Chase Holbrook called his imminent return to New Mexico – now as a college football coach at New Mexico Highlands University – a “happy coincidence.”
Holbrook, who spent the past five years as an assistant coach at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas working for former Aggie head coach Hal Mumme, is expected to be hired at Highlands in the coming days as the program’s offensive coordinator. While the program hasn’t made a formal announcement Holbrook said the hiring is expected within the next week, and a Facebook page dedicated to Highlands football announced the coaching staff’s impending addition last week.
Holbrook, who himself starred for the Aggies at quarterback in Mumme’s “Air-Raid” offense, said he’s excited about returning to New Mexico as a coach. He added his family has ties to the area, as his wife Robin is from Las Cruces and the couple also has family in Albuquerque.
“It came along and it was the perfect opportunity to learn a little more, keep growing and getting better,” Holbrook said. “It’s a good chance to get with a group of guys that have a new vision and to try to pick up some things.”
After graduating from NMSU following the 2009 football season Holbrook was hired by Mumme at McMurry, a Division III athletics institution that was transitioning to the Division II level. He would coach running backs with the War Hawks for two years, then quarterbacks for another two before working as offensive coordinator last season following Mumme’s departure from the program and the promotion of another former Aggie assistant, Mason Miller, to head coach.
Miller himself left McMurry this past offseason and Holbrook said he was made aware of the opening at Highlands, a Division II program located in Las Vegas, NM.
When asked what he’s learned as a college football coach to this point, Holbrook said “I feel like what we did offensively (at McMurry), then considering what I played in, the learning curve was quicker.”
He would then add, “Coaching running backs, that opened my eyes a lot more. If you’re a quarterback, obviously you have an understanding of what you’re doing. But working with running backs, working with the offensive line in the running game, that part of it was a process. But it’s been a good experience to say the least.”
Holbrook said at this point he’s looking to gain experience in coaching, surrounding himself with different perspectives and personalities in the business. When asked of his long-term goals, Holbrook said he’d like to be a head coach.
“Not necessarily at a certain level,” he stated. “Some guys look at Division I or the NFL as the end-all be-all. For myself, I just want to be a head coach one day.”
Holbrook said as offensive coordinator he prefers a quick passing game – three-step drops while spreading the ball to various targets. He added that differs from his college experience slightly, as Mumme implemented more seven-step drops and a vertical passing game.
Holbrook said, while as offensive coordinator at McMurry, the War Hawks threw the ball on roughly 65 percent of their offensive plays. Last year, Holbrook said, McMurry’s offense accumulated just under 4,000 yards passing and just under 2,000 yards rushing, while averaging 38.5 points per game.
Holbrook added that, similar to his college playing days, he doesn’t run a complex offense, rather asking his players to master a handful of concepts without much variation in the gameplan on a week-to-week basis.
“We don’t want to overload the guys,” Holbrook said. “It’s not an extensive playbook.”
He would add, “From an offensive standpoint in particular, playing in our style, it opened me up to how important it is to run the ball and take pressure off the quarterback. It’s important to spread the ball around and take some of the load off of him, and we try to do that.”
Holbrook put up big numbers in the Aggie offense during his playing days. He’s the school’s all-time leader with 11,846 passing yards and 85 touchdowns while being somewhat of an untraditional player at the position – standing close to 6-foot-5 and weighing 245 pounds at the time, the strong-armed Holbrook’s only scholarship offer at quarterback came from Mumme when the coach was at Southeastern Louisiana.
Aside from a quality wide receiving corps, highlighted by standout Chris Williams, Holbrook didn’t always have the sturdiest of supporting casts with the Aggies – bad defenses and kicking games, and without the help of a consistent rushing attack.
Through it all he was a class student-athlete – always humble, playing hurt and perhaps overachieving at times during his NMSU career – and a good fit in Mumme’s quarterback-friendly system.
“Chase was the face of the program for years. He led us,” said former Aggie offensive lineman Polo Gutierrez, who currently coaches running backs at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “He was a coach on the field. Of course we stay in touch to this day. And it’s exciting to see him in the game.”
Playing in the high-octane WAC, the Aggies during that era competed against BCS bowl programs such Boise State and Hawaii, as well as quality mid-major foes such as Fresno State and Nevada.
“I realized the difference between great teams and bad teams isn’t a lot,” Holbrook said when reflecting on his playing days. “It can be four or five plays. You can talk about moral victories, but the good teams find a way to pull it off.”
Mumme concurred, letting out a chuckle as he reminisced about NMSU’s Air-Raid and the days of the WAC.
“We were close to turning it,” the head coach said. “We really were.”
Mumme would then state he believes Holbrook is as good a coach as he was college player.
“I think that says a lot,” Mumme said. “I think very highly of him and Robin. They were great additions to our staff at McMurry, and they’ll be great additions at Highlands.”