Sunday, October 17, 2004
AD Pete McDavid Presided Over the Golden Era of UNM Athletics
By Rick Wright
Journal Staff Writer
The 1963-64 school year was a trophy-case bonanza for the University of New Mexico athletic department.
In the fall of '63, coach Bill Weeks' Lobos beat Arizona 22-15 in an emotional, head-to-head showdown for the Western Athletic Conference football title.
In March '64, Bob King's UNM men's basketball team tied Arizona State for the conference crown followed by an unprecedented run to the National Invitation Tournament finals in New York City.
The Pit, New Mexico's most famous athletic and architectural landmark, sprung from a hole in the ground two years later.
In the spring of '64, Dick McGuire's men's golf team and Hugh Hackett's men's track-and-field squad also won WAC titles.
It was a rare feat yet, not all that surprising for a department that had come to expect success under athletic director Pete McDavid.
If ever there was a golden age of UNM athletics, short-lived though it might have been, the first five years of the 1960s was it.
In those years, football, golf and track and field combined for 11 conference titles. Basketball awoke from a long slumber, igniting a phenomenon called Lobomania.
"I'll tell you, that was a great time in (UNM's athletic) history," says Bob King, Lobos men's basketball coach from 1962-72. "We had some good people, and we all got along.
"And Pete McDavid was a great boss."
McDavid was a friendly yet hard-driving Illinois transplant who had come to know as much about New Mexico sports as any native.
"Pete was from Sullivan, Ill., and he was a fine athlete there," says former Albuquerque High boys basketball coach Jim Hulsman, who played football for McDavid at AHS in the '40s. "He came out with his friend Bill Dwyer."
It was Dwyer, a powerful fullback, who got the headlines as a football player for New Mexico in the late '30s. Hulsman remembers McDavid, listed as "Paul McDavid" in UNM's all-time lettermen's list, as a good player but not a star.
His lasting impact would come later.
McDavid went into coaching after graduation from UNM, first at Santa Fe High School. His Demons won the state football title in 1942. At Albuquerque High, he won a state football championship in '47 and state track titles in '48 and '50.
Albuquerque was a city of some 32,000 in 1940, but that figure would triple within a decade. In 1948, the city's second public high school, Highland High, opened its doors.
Hackett, HHS' first football and track coach, recalls doing his student teaching under McDavid at Albuquerque High.
Their friendship was tested, however, by an athletic rivalry between Highland and AHS High that resembled civil war.
"It was a very, very bitter rivalry," Hackett says. He still remembers a Hornets-Bulldogs game in 1953 that ended in a tie and was decided on penetrations (inside the other team's 20-yard line) in AHS' favor erroneously, he still believes.
"Some of the 'kids' are still heartbroken about it," he says.
Yet, Hackett says, he and McDavid remained friends and maintained a mutual respect.
In 1956, McDavid was hired as AD at UNM. Two years later he hired his old friend and rival, Hackett riding a string of seven straight state titles at Highland as Lobos track coach.
"I took my whole team from Highland with me," he says.
But Hackett proved an able national recruiter, too. Dick Howard, a 1960 Olympic bronze medalist in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles; half-miler Jim Dupree, who finished a heart-breaking fourth in the '60 Olympic Trials; and Adolph Plummer, who set a world 400-yard dash record wearing a Lobos uniform in '63, helped turn UNM into a regional and national power.
McDavid's first football hire, Dick Clausen in '56, didn't appear so successful. After consecutive 4-6 seasons, Clausen left to become athletic director at the University of Arizona.
Yet, among Clausen's players and staff were the ingredients that enabled UNM to go 48-23-1 from 1958-64 under head coaches Marv Levy and Bill Weeks.
Weeks, a former all-Big Seven quarterback at Iowa State, came to Albuquerque as a member of Clausen's staff in '56. He worked for Levy in '58-59, then became the head coach in 1960. He would win three Western Athletic Conference titles in the next five years.
In '60, the Lobos had moved from 17,000-capacity Zimmerman Field to 30,000-plus University Stadium a project overseen by McDavid and right-hand man John Dolzadelli.
"It was a fun time," says Weeks, who lives in Albuquerque. "There was a lot of school spirit involved.
"Pete, being so well-known around the state, I'm sure that didn't hurt our recruiting any. (The state's high school coaches) trusted him, so they gave us more trust than they might have."
McDavid's greatest success, though, came when he put his trust in an unknown University of Iowa assistant basketball coach named Bob King.
Birth of Lobomania
In the spring of 1962, McDavid fired men's basketball coach Bob Sweeney his own hire after Sweeney compiled a four-year record of 21-75. Several coaches with national profiles applied.
Based in part on a letter in praise of King he received from Iowa players, among them future NBA player and coach Don Nelson, McDavid bypassed the better-known applicants and hired the short, crew-cut Iowan.
King didn't need to be sold on the UNM job; it was a plum assignment for a man who never before had been a head coach at the college level. Still, his first impressions of McDavid made the decision that much easier.
"I think what impressed me the most," King says, "was that he seemed very honest and direct. ... He just went right to the facts and the questions, and I did the same."
Just two years later, the Lobos had their first-ever conference basketball title. Three seasons after that, Albuquerque had the Pit another project shepherded by McDavid and Dolzadelli.
McGuire, the Lobos golf coach, was the only one of the four championship coaches of '63-64 who wasn't hired by McDavid.
"I came on board in '54," McGuire says. "I'm not even sure we even had an athletic director at the time. Willie Barnes might have been the acting AD."
But McGuire and his program, too, thrived on McDavid's watch.
"I always had a lot of respect for him, and I liked Pete," he says. "I always thought he was a very fair individual, and he sure treated us nice."
Was everything rosy, sports-wise, at UNM in the early '60s? Not quite.
Hackett was frustrated, and still is, that McDavid's policy of playing freshmen on spring-sports varsity teams meant those freshmen were ineligible for NCAA-level competitions and were ineligible again as seniors.
"It ruined us for NCAA championships," he says, "because we could only use sophomores and juniors."
The Lobos' 1964 track-and-field conference title was the first of four straight, but UNM never finished higher than fifth (in '65) at nationals.
Weeks says it always annoyed him that the athletic ticket office closed every weekday during the noon hour and closed for good at 5 p.m.
"I could never understand that from a standpoint of trying to sell tickets," he says. "But it wasn't really my job to worry about it."
McGuire won all his championships with a tiny travel budget, driving his teams to tournaments and beating teams that had flown in though, he says, McDavid was adept at getting him extra travel money for the NCAAs.
End of the era
And, of course, "the golden era" didn't last.
Football was the first to slide. When most Division I schools moved from one platoon to two platoons in the mid-60s, UNM wasn't given the resources to follow suit.
In 1964, Weeks' Lobos went 9-2 and won their third straight conference title. After going 3-7, 2-8 and 1-9 the next three years, he resigned.
Though McDavid wasn't able to override an administrative decision tantamount to de-emphasis, Weeks and the AD never had a falling-out.
"We always got along," he says.
UNM hasn't won a conference title in football since '64.
King's Lobos basketball team won a second WAC title in 1968. He stepped down as coach in '72, expecting to become AD when McDavid retired the following year. But, after being passed over in favor of Lavon McDonald, he left New Mexico for Indiana State.
The Lobos men's basketball program has seen plenty of success in the post-King, post-McDavid era: three regular-season championships, two conference-tournament titles, nine NCAA Tournament berths.
The program also was blighted by the Lobogate scandal in 1979-80, however, and has struggled in recent years. UNM is 21-35 in Mountain West Conference play the past four seasons.
The men's track program last won a conference championship in 1967, nine years before Hackett retired. Coach Matt Henry, who competed in the 440- and 880-yard runs for Hackett in the early '70s, now is attempting to restore UNM to its previous heights.
If any program has retained its early '60s luster, it's men's golf. Since McGuire retired in 1977, the Lobos have won five conference titles most recently last year.
Yet, McGuire's string of nine league titles in a row and 10 in 11 years has never been approached.
UNM has enjoyed plenty of success in the ensuing four decades, but it's probably fair to say the bonanza of the early '60s has never been equaled.
Why? Today's college athletics landscape is vast and complicated compared to that of 40 years ago. McDavid oversaw 10 varsity sports in '63-64, compared to the current number of 21 (down from a high of 24). Women's varsity sports didn't exist.
"It was a different world than it is now, completely different," Weeks says.
Hackett, from a track-and-field perspective, is quick to agree.
"Except for an Olympic year," he says, "track and field is sort of forgotten."
Those who witnessed it, though, haven't forgotten the successes of 1963-64 or the man who orchestrated them McDavid, who died in 1983.
"He was just so far-sighted," Hulsman recalls. "He'd tell me, 'One of these days you're going to see this,' and most of the time he was right."
McDavid couldn't have foreseen all the forces that have prevented UNM from repeating the golden age of the early '60s. Even if he had, he couldn't have changed them.
Something that hasn't changed, though not much, anyway is the Pit. With a mezzanine section here and a nip-and-tuck there, it has remained one of college basketball's premier venues.
That's one prize from the McDavid era that's too big for the trophy case.
Journal correspondent J.D. Kailer contributed to this story.