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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Column: Coaching changes might be key for defense

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By Aaron Sweet / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Defensive Coordinator Kevin Cosgrove encourages linebackers during warmup drills on Tuesday. Cosgrove looks to revive a defense ranked near the bottom of almost every defensive category last season.

assistantsports@dailylobo.com
@JROppenheim

Coaching can make a dramatic difference. That’s what New Mexico head coach Bob Davie is betting on with changes he made to his defensive staff.

In the offseason Davie let go of Jeff Mills, Lobo football’s former defensive coordinator, and replaced him with linebackers coach Kevin Cosgrove. He also brought Barry Sacks aboard to lead the defensive line and Charles McMillian as the defensive backs coach.

The changes were necessary. While the Lobos managed to move the ball and score offensively last season, the defense could hardly keep pace with anybody on the schedule. The team’s total defense ranked 119th nationally at 516.6 yards per game, and they surrendered a 42.8-point average.

Reforming the Lobos to even a respectable position in the football ranks isn’t an easy task, and Davie knew this when he took the job. In his press conference Monday just before spring ball started, he compared the program’s restoration to turning a luxury cruise liner: a slow process.

“It’s like turning the Queen Mary around: there’s no easy way to do it,” he said. “I think as long as we stay on course and stay patient, this is the next step in that.”

That’s been the Davie way from the start of his tenure back in 2012. He said Monday that the program is about where he expected it to be after two seasons: a team with seven wins over that span.

The irony, however, is in how effective the Lobos are offensively — fifth nationally in rushing a year ago — considering Davie comes from a defensive background. Before coaching at UNM and Notre Dame, Davie coached defense under legendary coaches Lou Holtz, Jackie Sherrill and R.C. Slocum.

“If you would have told me that our offense would be as far ahead of our defense right now as it is, I’d have thought it would have been the opposite,” he said. “Coming in with our backgrounds and how we build things, it hasn’t been that. There are a lot of reasons for that.”

Enter Cosgrove, Sacks and McMillian.

Cosgrove is already familiar with UNM’s defensive issues after serving the previous two years as the team’s inside linebackers coach. McMillian has coordinator experience from Prairie View A&M before arriving at UNM, and Sacks spent time at California.

Along with Archie McDaniel with the outside linebackers, the Lobo coaches must make sure their defense plays more aggressively. The team showed some signs of that in their season finale at Boise State.

Sometimes making coaching changes can make the difference, but it ultimately comes down to the players themselves, how they develop and how they perform in game. They’re the ones who play. Coaches can only do so much.

There’s still loads of time before UNM’s Aug. 30 opener against UTEP, and there’s only so much that can be done over this five-week spring practice schedule, but this marks yet another step for Davie and the program.

“If we did nothing this spring but get from point A to point B faster, with more effort and more confidence and more maturity, I consider it a heck of a spring ball,” Davie said. “I just want to see our guys go out and cut it loose, gain some confidence and gain some maturity with how we play.”