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Playing the Coaching Name Game

Give Paul Krebs credit.

The University of New Mexico’s vice president for athletics has got such a tight lid on the University of New Mexico football coaching search, Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime couldn’t have pried it off.

As a result, throwing darts while blindfolded has become the state pastime. Since the dismissal of Mike Locksley on Sept. 25, the search for the next UNM head football coach has become a progressively hotter topic.

Names? You want names? OK. Here, in no particular order, are but a few of the current and former college coaches who have been mentioned as possible candidates for the job from which Mike Locksley was fired on Sept. 25:

Mike Leach; Rich Rodriguez; Tommy Bowden; Terry Bowden; Jim Leavitt; Jason Phillips; Jim McElwain; Willie Fritz; Sonny Dykes; Glen Mason; Butch Davis; Tim Beckman; Bob Bostad; Mark Richt; Dan Hawkins; Dirk Koetter; Mark Mangino; Noel Mazzone; Mike Stoops; Ron Caragher; Gary Barnett; Phillip Fulmer; Houston Nutt.

Some of those names make sense; others not a lick. Some might covet the UNM job; others probably wouldn’t touch it. The eventual choice might be among them; he might not.

The list seemingly grew shorter last week when Krebs, on his radio show, said UNM was considering only candidates with head-coaching experience. But that had been his stated preference all along.

So, scratch Phillips, the offensive coordinator at Houston; McElwain, who holds that same job at Alabama; Bostad, a former UNM assistant and now the run-game coordinator at Wisconsin; and Mazzone, a former Lobos quarterback (1976-78) and the current Arizona State offensive coordinator.

In fact, for our purposes this morning, scratch everyone except Leach, the former Texas Tech coach, and Fritz, the current Sam Houston State coach.

This is not to say either will be the next coach, that either is being considered, or that either would consider UNM.

It’s not the person; it’s the profile.

Lobo Nation loves Leach, the quirky but inventive former Texas Tech coach. He’s the overwhelming favorite for the job on the UNM fan sites because of his success with the Red Raiders.

But is that love requited? On Tuesday, Leach told the Memphis Commercial Appeal he would be interested in the University of Mississippi job made available this week by the firing – effective at the end of the season – of Nutt as Ole Miss’ coach.

Efforts by the Journal to reach Leach have been unsuccessful, but, in an interview with an Albuquerque sports-talk radio station, he had nice things to say about the state but didn’t say he coveted the UNM job.

Fritz, whose lower-level-of-competition Bearkats prompted Locksley’s firing by beating the Lobos on Sept. 24, is in only his second year at the Huntsville, Texas, school. Sam Houston State is 9-0 and one victory away from a Southland Conference title. Fritz, in the midst of a run to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, has not commented on other jobs.

So, why the focus here on Leach and Fritz? Because, unlike most of the others, they fit Krebs’ stated profile for the job.

Head coaching experience? Check. Recruiting ties to Texas? Check.

And here’s another important qualification, which Krebs didn’t mention, that Leach or Fritz would bring to the Lobos: a creative approach to offense that would help compensate for a deficit in talent.

That’s something Locksley’s teams never did.

At Texas Tech, Leach took a series of quarterbacks – none of whom would go on to success in the NFL – and tortured defenses with his version of Hal Mumme’s “Air Raid” spread offense. They also beat teams with superior overall talent, like third-ranked Oklahoma in 2007 and top-ranked Texas in 2008.

At Sam Houston State, Fritz runs a triple-option-based but multiple attack that’s averaging 39 points per game. After SHSU hung 48 points and 547 yards on the Lobos, UNM interim coach George Barlow – the defensive coordinator that night – admitted the Bearkats’ mixture of conventional and unconventional offense had his players off-balance throughout.

Defense? For that, no quick fix exists. Locksley’s offense was supposed to keep the Lobos in games during a rebuilding process. Instead, the Lobos averaged 16 points per game during his tenure. Meanwhile, UNM was giving up more than 40 points per contest.

Krebs says he’d like to hire a new coach before the end of the current season, suggesting a preference for someone who’s currently out of work. But, in a text to the Journal on Tuesday morning, Krebs added, “Who we hire will determine if that is possible.”

If a currently employed coach is determined to be the best fit – at least among those willing to take on a supremely challenging job – UNM will wait.

Meanwhile, Krebs and Todd Turner of Collegiate Sports Associates, the firm UNM hired for $25,000 to assist in the search, are out there.

Exactly where they are in the process, only they know.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal