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Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Tomey Revitalizes SJSU
By Ken Sickenger
Journal Staff Writer
Capsulizing Dick Tomey's coaching career is like trying to cram 43 beefy linemen into a phone booth.
Sure, Tomey's in just his second year at San Jose State, but Saturday's inaugural New Mexico Bowl will be the 299th Division I-A football game of his head coaching career.
Since starting as a graduate assistant at Miami of Ohio in 1962, Tomey, 69, has pieced together the kind of career most football coaches only dream about. In 43 seasons (26 as a head coach), he's basically done it all, including resurrecting a dormant San Jose State program.
"Coach Tomey's a great leader," Spartans cornerback Dwight Lowery said. "To do the things he's done, turn this program around, he has to be."
Evidence is plentiful.
Tomey's the career victories leader at both Hawaii and Arizona. His overall record (169-122-7) places him among the top five active Divison I-A coaches in games coached and career victories.
As an assistant, Tomey worked under such legends as Bo Schembechler and Dick Vermeil. He was defensive assistant for the San Francisco 49ers (2003) and assistant head coach for Texas' Rose Bowl championship team (2004).
Tomey has history against the University of New Mexico, too. In fact, he might be tempted to highlight UNM on his résumé.
Tomey's 11-2 against the Lobos overall, 8-2 with Hawaii and 3-0 with Arizona. The latter includes a 20-14 win at the 1997 Insight.com Bowl.
But ask Tomey what comes to mind when he thinks of the Lobos, and he doesn't mention his 11 wins. Instead, he brings up Nov. 20, 1982 a day many UNM fans will never forget.
Hawaii led New Mexico 17-14 entering the fourth quarter that night at University Stadium. That is until Mike Carter broke a 43-yard touchdown run, Johnny Jackson added a quarterback strip and 28-yard TD return and UNM was off to the races.
Outscoring the visitors 27-0 in the fourth quarter, then-coach Joe Morrison's Lobos won 41-17 to cap a 10-1 season.
"We were driving at the end of the game and the fans were already tearing down the goal posts," Tomey recalled.
"I asked one of the officials, 'What happens if we score?' He just looked at me as if to say, 'You're not gonna score.' ''
UNM fans tore down both sets of goal posts that night, but only 23,082 attended. The nationally ranked Lobos were not invited to a bowl game.
Tomey could empathize. His nationally ranked Rainbows had been bowl-snubbed in 1981.
Fast-forward to 2006.
College football's postseason landscape has changed dramatically and New Mexico (6-6) and San Jose State (8-4) are in the same bowl picture.
It's nothing new for Tomey, who led Arizona to seven bowls in 14 seasons and won four times. Even so, some believe Tomey's done some of his best coaching work at San Jose State, which is making its first bowl appearance in 16 years.
"He's an excellent football coach that's done probably an unbelievable job at San Jose State," UNM coach Rocky Long says. "Taking over the program and going from 3-8 to 8-4, and now they're in a bowl game in his second year as the coach."
The Spartans' eight wins in 2006 equal their combined victory total for the previous three seasons. The turnaround prompted the Western Athletic Conference school to give Tomey a two-year contract extension earlier this month.
Tomey concedes building a program in the San Francisco Bay Area is different than doing so in Honolulu or Tucson. The competition for players is great in California, but there is a deep local talent pool. The Spartans' roster lists 88 players from California five from other states.
With the exception of recruiting, Tomey said he's building San Jose State much the same way he's built other programs.
"You want to get guys excited about it," Tomey said, "but also let them know we expect a certain standard. If you can't perform to that standard, you can't be part of our program."
Tomey feels good about the strides his team has made, but he knows a bowl victory in front of a national television audience could speed the Spartans' progress even more.
"No one on our team has ever been to a bowl. There's a lot of excitement," Tomey said. "But I told our players, 'You don't get to a bowl game just to be there.' We're in it to win it, that's our attitude.''
The New Mexico Bowl: Saturday, New Mexico vs. San Jose State, University Stadium, 2:30 p.m. TV: ESPN Radio: KKOB-AM (770)