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Howling With The Lobos: The Band Is Back Together

Long returns, this time as DC

Weber State v San Diego State Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images

Some bands get back together after a period apart, and sometimes the music that is played when they reunite is some of the best ever. In the case of the New Mexico Lobos football team, the music was the best ever in the program from the late 90s to the late 2000s. Rocky Long was guiding the team to multiple bowl trips, challenging every team that was on the schedule, recruiting those players who had no offers and turning them into professional material. The community was giddy about the football program in ways that only the basketball team had seen. Then came November 17th, 2008. The day the band broke up.

The day Rocky resigned, many Lobo fans were stunned. Sat in shock and listened to the words he spoke about the program. About how the message sometimes grows stale. His message had been working, but behind the scenes, things weren’t working in Rocky’s favor. He took his music with him to San Diego and joined Brady Hoke’s staff at SDSU. The Lobos hired what they thought was a great offensive mind in Mike Locksley. What they got was weekly blowout losses, and a 3-33 record over three seasons. Bob Davie replaced Locksley after those three seasons. Davie injected some energy into the program, even going 9-4 one season and winning the New Mexico Bowl. Still, nothing felt the same as it did when Rocky was orchestrating the show.

Davie left after last season. Another long, and suffering, season that ended 2-10 and winless in the Mountain West Conference. Lobo fans had been admiring from afar at Long, who had replaced Brady Hoke as the head coach at San Diego State. The watched, longing for the music that he was producing in San Diego. Long’s teams reached bowl games every season. They won 10 or more games in three straight years, and four out of five. He guided the Aztecs to a conference championship in 2015. Lobo fans grew envious. Even as their team headed for bowl trips in consecutive years, it was like something was missing.

Things began to change in Albuquerque on December 17th, 2019. Ironically the date was 133 months after, as Don McLean put it, the music died. The University of New Mexico announced that day that former Lobo player and coach Danny Gonzales was hired to succeed Davie as the head coach. Right away Gonzales said he was going to get the band back together. Lobo fans all over began to get happy again.

Gonzales hired many former Lobo players and coaches to his staff. Jason Lenzmeier, who was a former offensive lineman at UNM, was hired to be the offensive line coach. Derek Warhime, who was the New Mexico tight ends coach between 2012-14, was hired for the offensive coordinator job. Gonzales also added some coaches who he has great relationships with. Brandon Blackmon, who is the Lobos cornerbacks coach, came with Gonzales from Arizona State. David Howes, who is now the linebackers coach, was the head football coach at Rio Rancho High School in New Mexico, and is Gonzales’ brother-in-law. Gonzales brought in Troy Reffett to coach the safeties. Jamie Christian to be the special teams coordinator. He also brought in Jordan Sommerville to be an offensive assistant. The hires were great ones. Lobo fans were fired up. There was still one piece of the puzzle missing; defensive coordinator. Then something interesting happened.

On January 9th Rocky Long stepped down as the San Diego State head coach. His previous few days had been spent entertaining defensive coordinator offers from Power Five schools. Lobo fans themselves threw out the possibility on social media of Rocky returning. Many in the local media shot the idea down. Told fans it was a pipe dream. That there was no way Long would return as DC. It would overshadow the Gonzales hire.

Well, much to the delight of fans, and perhaps to the shame of some media members, who are now eating crow, it was announced Monday morning that Rocky had been hired by Gonzales to be the defensive coordinator. The job fits Rocky right now. He’s back at New Mexico. He’s not doing the tougher grind that a head coach does, which is what he wanted now coming up on the age of 70. And he is back with coaches he knows very well and work great together.

When Danny Gonzales said he was getting the band back together he sure meant it. Time will of course tell if the music of this reunion will be as great, or greater, than the music that was played before. For now, Lobo fans are giddy for football again. Something that has been missing in the community seems, for now, to have finally returned.