November 16, 2011
Bad news today for fans who like their footbaw commentary to come with a warm, baked-in orange sheen: Bob Davie is leaving his gig as an ESPN color commentator to take over as head coach of the smoking crater formerly known as the New Mexico football program. A press conference is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
Believe it or not, it's been nearly a decade since Davie was last seen stalking the sideline as the ill-fated successor to Lou Holtz's resurrection of Notre Dame, his first and only head coaching job to date after cutting his teeth as architect of the dominant "Wrecking Crew" defenses at Texas A&M in the early nineties. In five years in South Bend, Davie's teams alternated a pair of nine-win, top-25 seasons in 1998 and 2000 with a pair of five-win flops in 1999 and 2001, the latter of which — along with an insufficient reverence for Irish tradition and the first NCAA sanctions in school history — got him fired.
To draw a contemporary comparison, Bob Davie was the Rich Rodriguez of Notre Dame. Still, ten years on, none of his three successors — four, if you count the five-day administration of George O'Leary — has fared demonstrably better.
Of course, Knute Rockne himself would have a hard time mustering much enthusiasm for the prospects of resuscitating New Mexico, a program that's sunk so far so fast it could disappear into the desert completely without much notice. In two years under former coach Mike Locksley, the Lobos won twice, both on last-second field goals, and Locksley was suspended for punching an assistant coach and hit with a lawsuit by a former secretary who accused him of age discrimination. (A subject Davie knows a little something about himself.) This year, Locksley was ditched after an 0-4 start in September, punctuated by the DWI arrest of a 19-year-old in an SUV registered to Locksley after an overtime loss to Sam Houston State on Sept. 24. The axe fell the next day.
In the meantime, the Lobos have remained arguably the worst team in the nation: Before their first win on Saturday, a 21-14 upset over UNLV, they'd dropped their previous four games by a combined score of 195 to 14. They currently rank among the bottom five teams nationally in scoring offense, scoring defense, total defense, pass efficiency, pass efficiency defense, rushing defense, third-down defense and tackles for loss. Out of 120 teams in the Bowl Subdivision, Jeff Sagarin ranks New Mexico 175th.
At least no one has any false expectations. And if Davie manages to lead UNM back to a bowl game — it played in five of them in six years from 2002-07, under coach Rocky Long — he'll be hailed as a kind of miracle worker. More likely, his mission is to clean house, get the program back on some semblance of solid footing and leave a more solid foundation for the next up-and-comer to build on in a few year. But that's putting the cart way ahead of the horse: In the short-term, Davie had better be bracing himself for a whole lot of losing.