One has got to hand it to New Mexico Athletic Director Eddie Nunez. He has made some good strides in attempting to pump life back into the Lobo football program. He hired Danny Gonzales to be the next football coach. That was awesome considering Gonzales’ ties to the program. Then Gonzales brought back a lot of former players to be on his staff, and then topped it off with hiring Rocky Long, the winningest coach in UNM history, to be his defensive coordinator. That’s a great start, but Nunez and Co. need to do one more thing: fix the schedule.
I get that out of conference schedules are usually planned out three to four years in advance, and that there is no guarantee that Gonzales and staff will be here in three to four years—though it is likely they will be—and that the name of the game recently given the circumstances surrounding the UNM Athletic Department’s revenue, but the Lobos should go back to scheduling the way Rocky did when he was the head coach.
New Mexico needs to quit it with going to Mississippi State and USC and Notre Dame. They need to go back to regional rivalries, put teams like UTEP back on the schedule. Texas Tech would be another good one, Arizona and Arizona State. Yes, I get it, those teams would have to agree upon such games too, but I think that those schools wouldn’t pass at the opportunity to rekindle the old rivalries with the Lobos.
The rekindling of rivalries would help-out attendance, viewership and listenership of Lobo football, something that has been missing in the decade that Long has been gone from the sidelines. Not to mention, there is a better possibility of winning the game with the nearby rivals than there is visiting Notre Dame, or LSU and Auburn like they have on future schedules. And there is ample evidence that shows when the football team wins, the fans come in droves. Just look at the Mike Sheppard versus the Dennis Franchione eras. The Lobos were losing, no one came to the stadium; the Lobos then won under Franchione, and the program had then-record setting crowds coming to watch the football team, even in the midst of the basketball program being ranked nationally year in and year out.
This will also help with recruiting the area. The Southwest has a great pipeline of players, thanks to west Texas, south and eastern New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California. Considering that many players would like to go to a place not too far from home, be on a winning team, and potentially play other regional teams that some friends might go to, this would be a win in that department too.
It may seem highly improbable that the University will move away from having to take money games every season, but in all honesty the Lobos would be better off to fill up their stadium by rekindling old rivalries, and when they should play the Power Five teams, they should stick with regional teams as well. It will go a long way to helping rebuild New Mexico football.