By Greg Archuleta
Enchantment Sports Assistant Editor
Is it bowl game or bust for Bob Davie in 2019?
As the eighth-year University of New Mexico football coach and his team get ready for the 2019 season, Davie accepts the pressure of returning the Lobos to their 2015-16 form, in which they went to back-to-back New Mexico Bowls — winning the latter to cap a 9-4 season.
Questions about his job security grew louder and became more frequent at the end of 2018, which marked a second straight 3-9 record that included a seven-game losing streak to finish the year.
Davie himself says UNM should be judged annually by a bowl game appearance.
“I think the measure is if you get to a bowl game,” said the coach with a 33-54 record at UNM and a 68-79 mark overall (including five years at Notre Dame). “That, to me, is really the measuring stick here. Can you win more games than you lose?”
Davie has been vocal about the challenges that a school such as New Mexico faces in building a consistently winning program, primarily due to the inconsistent level of — both internally and externally — that the program receives.
Over the summer, the Mountain West media picked the Lobos to finish last in the Mountain Division, with only one of 21 voters placing them out of the sixth-place cellar. That lone voter put them fifth.
On the surface, the coach seems to be fighting an uphill battle to get the Lobos to a bowl game — and keeping his job.
He still believes he is the right coach for New Mexico. His experience, Davie explains, makes him the most qualified to rekindle la vida in los Lobos.
“I’m very appreciative of this opportunity, but there’s no question it’s unique,” Davie said in a recent interview. “People hear you say it’s a redo and they say, ‘You’re going into your eighth season; how can it be a redo?’ I think if you really understand this program and this university, that’s kind of what this is going to be. I don’t think you’re ever going to get where, ‘OK, we’re at this level and it’s just going to be this level and we’re going to maintain.’
“You do learn a lot. I’ve learned a lot about this community. I’ve learned a lot about this university. To have the energy, to have the passion and to have the stick with it all and longevity to do it again, bring it back up, that’s very important to me. I know what it takes. Instead of being frustrated and saying, ‘I’ve had enough,’ that’s not me. I didn’t come here to leave it like it is.”
Last season, the Lobos had their worst offensive output in terms of yardage during Davie’s tenure with a 330.0-yard average per game. Starting quarterback Tevaka Tuioti played in only three games, first because of a concussion and then because of a broken clavicle.
Tuioti’s 2019 progress no doubt will be tempered by his absences at fall camp to fly to California to be with his ailing grandfather.
That will give Sheriron Jones, the primary starter, Trae Hall and junior college transfer Brandon Hughes more reps in practice. That should help if another injury befalls Tuioti, but he gives UNM its best chance at making the triple-spread-option work.
Defensively, Davie has entrusted first-year coordinator Jordan Peterson (whom Davie promoted from a position coach) to implement an attacking style that will allow the Lobos to dictate what opposing offenses do — rather than the other way around, as had been the case increasingly the last two years.
The one element in which Davie has not accepted the burden is the lack of external support.
New Mexico averaged 16,587 fans per game in 2018, which ranked 108th among 130 Football Bowl Subdivision schools, and was the school’s lowest attendance in 27 years.
It should be noted, that last year the MW had its lowest attendance since its inception in 1999. The league average was 23,862 fans a game.
Even in 2016, during Davie’s 9-4 season in which the Lobos beat UTSA 23-20 in the New Mexico Bowl, subtracting the bowl game attendance that season, UNM averaged only 18,708 fans per game. That was the lowest since 1991.
Davie said media coverage of UNM over the summer is virtually non-existent, reflecting the community’s interest in the program.
“Honestly, there’s not as much conversation here as there would be at most places,” he said. “All summer, every day, there are stories on players, there are stories on positions, there are stories on recruiting — most places, it’s a continual thing from that end of it. There probably is more exposure for the program at other places.”
Making a resurgence all the more improbable — and all the more impressive if it happens — for Davie.
If a resurgence doesn’t happen, the program very well could be some other coach’s responsibility.
Greg Archuleta is the assistant editor at Enchantment Sports. He was the New Mexico Lobo football beat writer for the Albuquerque Journal for 12 years and worked as a professional journalist for more than two decades. Look for Greg’s “Koz and Effect” columns throughout the football season. Koz? You can as him why, or reach him with any other tidbits, tips or inquiries at enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.