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College football: Fine returns to NM to fix Highlands program

Marty Fine arrived briefly in New Mexico in 1984, an ambitious young man, going from New York City to Silver City.

“I was young, living on a block with 10,000 people, moving to a town with less than 10,000,” Fine said. “It was a culture shock at that age.”

After a nearly 32-year absence, he is back. Football was the reason then. It is the reason now.

Fine, 56, has taken the reins of the New Mexico Highlands football team, a program that is 7-37 since 2013.

“I’m a fixer,” Fine said. “It’s what I do best. I take something that’s broke and fix it.”

In 1984, he was a former Union College Dutchmen linebacker looking to get into coaching. Mike Drake, at the age of 27, had just been named head coach at Western New Mexico and he was in need of some young assistants. Through a series of connections, Drake found Fine.

Fine admits now he did not full appreciate the beauty and charm of Silver City at the time. But as he earned his bachelor’s degree at WNMU, his coaching career was born.

The Mustangs, with Fine in charge of the linebackers, went 7-2-1, 7-0-1 in the RMAC, then affiliated with the NAIA.

A season later, it was on to Sonoma (Calif.) State. Then he got a job closer to home as head coach of the U.S. Naval Academy prep school in Newport, R.I. There were also assistant stints with Indiana State, Colgate, Indiana and Iowa State.

In 2004, he took over as head coach at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I. Part of his job became to oversee the Bulldogs’ move from NCAA Division II to NCAA FCS status. After going 80-61 at Bryant, Fine resigned in December. The place no longer needed fixing.

“I was going to retire, or at least take a year off,” Fine said.

Then Bob Clifford called.

Fine’s formula for fixing a program hinges on people. He believes Highlands, starting with athletic director Clifford and NMHU president Dr. Sam Minner, has the right folks.

Clifford, who took over at NMHU in January 2016, had been a longtime associate AD at Oregon State (and is a published poet).

“The athletic director is one of brightest men I’ve ever met,” Fine said. “He has a great background and knowledge. For the place to have Bob Clifford as athletic director, I think they should really be honored.”

Fine, these days, is a staff of one, but is in no hurry to hire. Signing day is Feb. 1, but he is no rush there, either

“The first thing I have to do is learn the school so I can represent it properly,” Fine said.

He said he has talked with many of the players and while it is too early to assess their talent, he is impressed with them as young men.

“I think they’re excited to move forward and figure out what we’re going to do and how were going to make it better,” Fine said. “They’re good kids and want to be successful.”

He plans on using a pro-style offense and establish the run (he will call the plays). He wants his defense to be gap sound and stay off the field as much as possible. He still takes much of his philosophy learned all those years ago from Mike Drake.

He said NMHU’s plan for athletics, its student center and training facilities are in place. The New Mexico Highlands Foundation has started a campaign to replace the 14-year-old football field at a cost of $450,000.

“The bones of this place are really good, better than a lot of places I’ve been,” Fine said.

His previous stop in New Mexico was brief. He plans on a longer stay this time.

“I’ve done this before; it’s not a quick fix,” he said. “I intend to build something that will stand the test of time.”

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