By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
To say University of New Mexico football coach Bob Davie and athletic director Eddie Nuñez parted ways by “mutual decision” is like saying President Donald Trump and Adam Schiff are on the same page when it comes to the impeachment inquiry.
But is there something more than Nunez simply allowing Davie to save some face by agreeing to part ways, instead of being fired?
During separate news conferences on Tuesday — yes, separate — Davie made it obvious that he felt he was terminated, contradicting the school’s news release on Monday.
Neither Nuñez nor Davie would directly say if it was a firing, but first Davie hinted that it was by saying that during the season “there were some signals eminent that there would be a change, but I did think I would be able to coach the last game without this happening before the last game.
“From that (aspect), it caught me a little bit by surprise.”
Then Davie left no doubt when I asked the final questions of his final pregame news conference as Lobo coach.
My question: “You said there were signs that this was coming during the year, and it was a surprise it happened before the last game. Was it a mutual decision?”
Davie responded: “We’ll let the athletic director answer that.”
I followed: “You talked about the support you got during your years. You didn’t mention the current administration. Do you feel the support from the current administration was lacking from what you needed?”
Davie: “I take pride in doing things the right way. Whatever my conversations are regarding that, I think it’s best to keep it internal, and I try to do things the right way.”
During his part of the weekly news conference, which was held in the at Dreamstyle Stadium, Nuñez would only say “It was mutual. (Davie) understood what he wanted to see from this program as much as we did.”
Nuñez spoke at noon and left before Davie arrived at 12:30 p.m.
UNM cross country coach Joe Franklin and volleyball coach Jon Newman-Gonchar both spoke between Nuñez and Davie.
Whether Davie is owed a buyout is the biggest question. His contract states that he receives about $800,000 if he is fired.
But Nuñez said, “In regards to the terms of what was decided or mutually agreed upon, right now those are being handled and finalized by legal. None of that becomes final until the board approves it.
“At this point, I cannot speak specifically about all the details.”
He said the next board meeting is Dec. 10 , and the details would be announced at that time.
But why the controversy over using the term fired?
It could very well be because there is much we don’t know behind the program that has become such an embarrassment the past three years, and never really was all that impressive even during Davie’s lone two winning seasons.
The guess here is that there is room for negotiations.
The way I understand it, Davie would not receive the buyout if he was fired for cause, which is different from just having a losing program.
I asked Nunez how much the off-field issues came into play with the decision to change coaches. He said there was not one specific reason “and it’s the whole culmination of how I evaluate the whole program from top to bottom.”
Considering all of the off-field problems Davie and his players have had during his tenure — some causing Davie to be suspended without pay for 30 days last year — it’s possible there are issues we don’t even know about that could be legal grounds for termination without having to pay a buyout.
Considering how passive, Lobo friendly and sponsor-influenced the Albuquerque media are, I can almost guarantee Nunez has information that would make Davie’s UNM days look even worse than they already are.
Thus, there very well could be room to negotiate something between a no-buyout firing for cause and the $800,000 for simply having a horrific win-loss record.
But make no mistake, that record is horrendous.
Davie is 35-63 in his eighth and final season at the school. He will coach the team’s season finale at home against Utah State on Saturday.
And despite a nonconference schedule that has included three non-FBC schools and New Mexico State three times, the Lobos have gone 8-27 the past three years and a cringe-worthy 2-21 in the Mountain West Conference.
What makes the past three years even worse than the record is the fact they came on the heels of Davie only two winning seasons at UNM.
The Lobos were 7-6 with a loss to Arizona in the New Mexico Bowl in 2015 and 9-4 with a New Mexico Bowl win against Texas-San Antonio in 2016.
But then it was immediately back to rock bottom.
On Tuesday, Davie was asked what happened after 2016.
He blamed a number of things, including problems with the administration — Nuñez was hired to replace Paul Krebs in August of 2017 — and said it was complicated, but was never specific.
Davie said he could have left UNM after that 9-4 season — something he mentioned at least twice during the afternoon — insinuating he had at least another job offer, basically calling it a mistake to stay.
But he never said he actually had if he had an offer.
And he was never asked by the media, who tossed the usual softball questions at the coach — including asking what he was thankful for this Thanksgiving.
No, I’m not making that up.
That question would be better directed to any remaining Lobo football fans, who are undoubtedly thankful to have a fresh start.
Attendance has been in a free fall for years and UNM is actually having a buy-one-get-one-free ticket sale for Saturday’s game.
It will be interesting to see if that special or the coaching change make any difference in the stands on Saturday.
NOTE: THE SALE PRICE HAS BEEN CORRECTED. UNM HAD PREVIOUSLY REPORTED IT TO BE A BUY-ONE-GET-TWO FREE SALE, BUT THAT WAS INCORRECT.
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for more than four decades, and is one of the most decorated sports journalists in state history. Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio and has been honored nationally for investigative reporting. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.