Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Rocky: Take This Job And ...
By Rick Wright
Journal Staff Writer
Rocky Long, citing disappointment in his program's failure to reach the top and in the community's lukewarm support of that quest, resigned on Monday as the University of New Mexico's head football coach.
Saying he's a "damn good football coach," he chastised fans for not showing more support for the Lobos win or lose.
Long kept his emotions in check during the hastily called news conference while discussing the disappointing 2008 season that led him to resign.
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However, his voice rose and he spoke with undisguised passion about a community he believed withheld its support while waiting for the big breakthrough that never came.
"The community has to get behind a good football coach and fill up the damn stadium every single game, win or lose, jump in with both feet and make this place special if they want to get on top," he said.
"Because I'm a damn good football coach; I don't care what anybody says. And there's nothing special to sell here, other than I love this place and it's a wonderful, unique place. But if you want to compete with the big boys, you better start acting like a big-time program. And that's not just the football team or the football coaches, that's the damn fans."
Long, the school's winningest football coach as well as its losingest with a 65-69 record in 11 years, called his departure "the right thing to do for the program." Paul Krebs, UNM vice president for athletics, said the search to replace Long will begin immediately. He declined further comment, saying he wanted Monday's focus to be on Long's achievements as head coach.
"In my opinion," Krebs said, "Rocky's 11-year tenure is the best 11 years in the history of our football program. ... He is New Mexico football."
Long said the decision to step down was his alone.
"Paul and (UNM President David Schmidly) have been nothing but supportive to me," he said. "This was not their idea, this is mine."
Long, a star quarterback at UNM from 1969 to 1971, returned to his alma mater as head coach in 1998. After just 12 victories in his first three seasons, the Lobos won 49 in the next seven going to five bowl games and reaching bowl eligibility each year.
But the Lobos struggled to a 4-8 season this season, losing their last four games. Long said he felt he and his coaching staff, despite an unprecedented wave of player injuries, didn't get the job done.
As the losses mounted, he said, he came to the conclusion that he wasn't the head coach who could raise the UNM program to the level of Mountain West Conference competitors like TCU, Brigham Young and Utah.
New Mexico hasn't won a conference title since 1964. Long, who consistently has called a league championship his highest priority, coached the Lobos to second-place Mountain West finishes in 2002, '03 and '04. The past four years, however, UNM is 15-17 in MWC play.
Long said he saw that goal getting further away rather than closer.
"Since I became an athlete here, way back when I was a player, the number one concern I've always had about the University of New Mexico is, I want this program to be on top," he said. "... I don't see it happening with me as the head coach."
In 2005, Long's Lobos set a UNM attendance record with an average of 38,341 per home game. But that team acknowledged as the most talented of Long's tenure finished a disappointing 6-5 and lost at University Stadium three times. Since then, home attendance has averaged slightly less than 30,000 per game.
Long's resignation came slightly less than three months after he signed a new, five-year, $750,000 contract. But under its terms, in the event of an unforced resignation, UNM owes Long only his base salary ($240,000), benefits accrued to the date of termination and a pro-rated share of other compensation as detailed in the contract.
Krebs called Long's decision unexpected in its timing yet not surprising based on conversations the two have had.
"It's unexpected, in that I didn't know this day would come," Krebs said. "But I knew how he was feeling, and I didn't know if it was the grind of the season, the demand of the job as the season wore down.
"I truly support his decision. If you just look at where this program was when he got here and where it is today, he has put us on a foundation, he has built a program that we all can be proud of and that the community needs to get more behind."
Long, 58, said he had no firm plans but added he hopes to be coaching somewhere next season.
"I love coaching," he said. "I don't look too old, do I? Maybe someone out there will think I could be a good defensive coordinator someplace or maybe coach at the (NCAA) Division III level or coach in high school.
"When you resign a job after you've been there 11 years, I'm probably not going to be a head coach again. I just hope people don't think I'm too old to be a good assistant coach."