Editor’s Note: From time to time, we will run columns from former members of the Albuquerque sports media. They are welcome to write about anything they recall during their Duke City sports tenure.
To lead the way is former Albuquerque Journal sports editor Tim Coder, who ran the sports show at the state’s biggest newspaper during much of Greg Archuleta’s and Mark Smith’s time as beat reporters for the University of New Mexico.
Much appreciation to Tim for taking the time to provide some thoughts and knowledge.
By Tim Coder
For Enchantment Sports
In another millennium, I served as sports editor of the Albuquerque Journal. Actually, it seems like a millennium ago when I took over the position in about 1999. Maybe the year before, but who’s counting?
The landscape in the New Mexico sports scene, particularly the Lobos, was so much different then.
Rudy Giuliani, er, Rudy Davalos, was the athletic director before retiring back to Texas and seeing the keys to the Pit, and unfortunately, the University of New Mexico’s athletic budget turned over to Paul Krebs.
Speaking of which, the Pit was actually the Pit, not much more than a hole in the ground with a warehouse popped on top, loads of true-grit hoops tradition and sellouts of more than 18,000 fanatics.
It wasn’t the glassy palace with magical mirrors designed to lure preening McDonald’s all-Americans to strut their stuff for the Lobos and to sweet talk the NCAA money men into packing Sweet Sixteens for Burque on a regular basis. We know what’s happened to the hoops dreams.
Lobo football was in a gilded era with Rocky Long, the ’70s quarterback star no one remembered until it was time to replace carpet-bagging coach Dennis Franchione.
Back to men’s basketball, Dave Bliss was the coach with a fraying temper and at least one gun-toting player as he contemplated a move to Baylor. It was, he humbly confessed, a giving back to his Christian values at the Baptist University, not to mention his mammoth payday and the luring of a student-athlete named Patrick Dennehy to play for him. And we all know what happened there.
What followed in my tenure, which ended in 2006, were the reigns of Fran Fraschilla – an adequate ESPN basketball commentating junkie who simply should never coach at the college level again, and Ritchie McKay, a knowledgeable basketball man and nice guy who couldn’t win on the road, relinquished control to his players and watched as fans disguised themselves as empty seats in the Pit.
I didn’t know many of you back in the day, occasionally penning a column when driven to minor outrage at a course of events, but mostly remaining behind the scenes to manage a newsroom stable of thoroughbreds and to keep the scoops coming for many of you, dear readers.
Which brings me really to my purpose here. You’ve got two of those thoroughbreds in Greg Archuleta, assistant sports editor of Enchantment Sports, and Mark Smith, the editor-in-chief.
They are a pair of newspaper ex-pats with the talent, hustle, ingenuity and some three decades combined in gritty sports journalism to ferry you figuratively behind the scenes. Through them you’ll meet the players, the personalities, the hangers-on and complex – many times wacky and oftentimes sad — issues surrounding Lobo sports and more.
Archuleta was a driven Lobo football beat writer and the most organized of all who worked in the Journal shop. The job for him was about relationships. He penned in-depth stories about Rocky Long, Brian Urlacher, Dontrell Moore and a host of others who were luring near sellout crowds into University Stadium during those salad days of the late 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s.
He was the only New Mexico writer who could have brought you the depth and poignant insight into his column here on Urlacher, the NFL Hall of Famer and New Mexico legend who delighted fans in his home state before he was a glint in Chicago’s eye. It was the first of many that Archuleta will give you on this website.
Smith, I’ll tell you, was not as organized as Archuleta. But give him the whiff of a story and he was a pit bull snarling for a hunk of beef. With a subdued sense of moral outrage at an injustice in or linked to Lobo basketball and a cell phone on call 24-7, he was the most tenacious I saw at the Journal. Perhaps anywhere. Bliss, Fraschilla and McKay would tell you the same, listing a litany of his true stories they simply hated. Truth, you must understand, is the absolute defense against libel.
Smith lived the beat. And it showed.
Good cop, bad cop is what you might see in Archuleta and Smith.
In this era of struggling daily newspapers, of labels of fake news, reporters being enemy of the people, and the notion of truth careening like an errant rebound, we’re fortunate to have Archuleta and Smith and their reporting in Enchantment Sports.
Give them your eye. And your support.
Tim Coder was a longtime sports editor for the Albuquerque Journal. He is now retired and living the life in Corrales.