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Ex-Lobo Coach Aims To Bolster NMSU Defense

By Greg Archuleta
Journal Staff Writer
      Beware, college football fans in the 5-0-5. Your rivalry with the 5-7-5 has become vastly more intriguing now that the latter has adopted the 3-3-5.
    For the past decade, coach Rocky Long and the University of New Mexico football program (the “5-0-5,” for those still area-code-challenged) have been the authorities on the 3-3-5 blitzing defensive scheme.
    The attack philosophy has helped make Long “the man” in UNM annuals as the winningest coach in school history with 61 victories.
    His mark includes five straight wins over in-state rival New Mexico State (the “5-7-5”), and wins in seven of the last eight meetings between the schools.
    In an “If you can't beat 'em, join 'em — and then beat 'em” move, the Aggies in December hired the man who schooled “the man” on the 3-3-5.
    Joe Lee Dunn, who spent seven years at New Mexico in the '80s, now is NMSU's defensive coordinator, charged with reviving a long-suffering Aggies unit that was 94th of 119 Division I-A programs in total defense in 2007 (429.9 yards allowed per game) and 107th in scoring defense (36.2 points per game).
    “Joe Lee's going to make New Mexico State a much better football team because he's such a good coach and he understands his defense so well,” Long says. “Just the idea that it's an attacking defense, in that Joe Lee will teach effort.”
    “They're going to be much better on defense than they have been in the past, which will make them a much better team because they're already a pretty darn good offensive team.”
    Long isn't simply blowing smoke; he knows first-hand about Dunn's abilities, having served as a defensive backs coach under Dunn at UNM in 1980, when Dunn came to the Lobos as defensive coordinator.
    It was in their first and only year together that Dunn taught Long the 3-3-5. Long went on to become Wyoming's defensive coordinator the following season, and then made a name for himself with the 3-3-5 in the Pac-10 with stops at Oregon State and UCLA before returning home to UNM in 1998 as head coach.
    Dunn held that title from 1983-86 but was fired after compiling a 17-30 record.
    Long says he thinks Dunn's history with the Lobos might motivate him to help the Aggies even the score when the teams meet on Sept. 27 in Las Cruces.
    “I'd imagine Joe Lee would like to beat us as much as anybody on their schedule,” Long says.
    Long adds that Dunn's presence potentially could have an impact on UNM beyond the football field.
    “Not only are the Aggies going to get better, but I think it's going to be harder to recruit kids in this area,” Long says. “Where we might've been the only school recruiting a certain type of kid last year, there'll probably be three schools (Texas-El Paso also will run the 3-3-5 this season with former Lobo defensive coordinator Osia Lewis installing the scheme there) recruiting them this year.”
    Neither recruiting nor the Lobos are in Dunn's thoughts right now. The first order of business for Dunn at NMSU has been to implement a basic defensive principle but one that's essential to the scheme's success.
    “We had to get them to run to the football. They didn't have any idea about hustling and playing hard,” Dunn said of his players when he watched them during spring practice. “We're going to get them in shape, and they're going to be able to play a full ballgame because when I got here, they didn't look like they could. You could hardly tell who was a good player in the spring because they weren't out on the field very long.”
    Dunn never lost to the Aggies during his seven years with the Lobos and concedes that coaching now in Las Cruces is a bit odd. His wife, Susie, is a UNM grad, as is his brother-in-law, former major league pitcher Rod Nichols.
    “They're not real pleased to be Aggies, right now, but it's just one of those things where it's kind of weird,” Dunn says. “But we're going to see what we can do about that. It'll be exciting for me (when NMSU plays UNM). I don't know if it'll be exciting for (the Lobos). The good thing is we play 'em down here.”