New Mexico is a grand whine cellar.
Choosing to chastise Lobo football aficionados in his scathing departing shot, former head coach Rocky Long said in not so many words that UNM football supporters were nothing more than wine-and-cheese fans. They’re just there to taste and criticize.
And they wanted California grapes to grow in a New Mexico vineyard.
“If you want to compete with the big boys, you better start acting like a big-time program, and that’s not just the football team or the football coaches — that’s the damn fans,” he said during his resignation speech in December.
Either first-year head coach Mike Locksley failed to take note of that when he accepted the job, or he conveniently ignored it in hopes that he could make those same lukewarm followers stay for dinner.
Not on Saturday, when the Lobos got griddled 44-10 by the Golden Hurricane. About midway through the third quarter, fans made a mass exodus, flooding the aisles to get to their cars before traffic jammed.
An announced crowd of 30,051 came for the Lobos’ home opener, but by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, only the few and the proud endured the whipping wind and watched the final seconds tick off the clock.
“The energy was there in the stadium for at least a half, until right around after halftime when they went and scored on us,” Locksley said, “I thought our fans hung in there with us.”
During the week leading up to the Lobos’ home opener with Tulsa, Locksley invoked the old saw that “it takes a village to raise a child.”
Perhaps, but if the village doesn’t approve of the way you’re rearing the child, trust that they will turn on you.
Two games into the season, Locksley’s head coach rating is about as mixed as Planter’s Nuts, with some anxiously waiting to break out the “Bring Rocky Back” banners, others encouraging impatient fans not to jump the gun.
Nancy Dugger, who attended UNM from 1975 to 1976 and donates to the athletics department, said fans are too pessimistic, regardless of who dons the headset and roams the sidelines.
“You have to give (Locksley) three years until he gets his style of player in,” she said. “Nothing against these kids, but we don’t get blue chippers here. Just once in a while you get a diamond in the rough.”
Others aren’t as sympathetic to the new coach’s plight.
Ed Grisko, 80, has been coming to Lobo games for almost 50 years. At the very least, Grisko said, Locksley should have basic game-management skills.
“I don’t agree with the way he’s calling his plays,” he said. “They’re going shotgun with (2) yards to go. That’s not a very good decision. He should know that stuff.”
Grisko added that he’s still waiting for the scoreboard to light up, too.
“I don’t agree with him keeping in the quarterback with the way he’s performing so far,” he said. “I think I could do better than him. Send me in, coach. It’s (been) two games and they haven’t even got an offensive touchdown.”
Wide receiver Daryl Jones urged fans not to jump off the bandwagon just yet, even though it appears both axles are broken.
“Don’t go to sleep on us just because these two first games were rough,” he said.
Sandpaper’s rough. How the Lobos have lost their first two games of the season has been unsightly, getting outscored 85-16 and looking more like a Pop Warner team than a Division I college team.
Lobo offensive lineman Erik Cook said that if he were in those fans’ shoes, he probably wouldn’t want to keep watching either.
“When your home team is getting beat 44-10, you’re not going to want to stay,” he said.
At the same time, Cook said it wouldn’t hurt if fans followed the team more religiously.
“You look at some big-time programs and their fans stay no matter what,” he said.
But Jones said it’s not about giving preachy sermons to this congregation of Lobo fans. It’s simply about winning, or, if nothing else, being competitive.
“We just have to come out and please the fans,” he said. “They want to see an exciting offense. It’s all on us. Hopefully we can pull off a winning season.”
Dugger said she doesn’t know if winning would help rectify the problem.
“This has been Lobo football my whole life,” she said. “If we’re losing like this, people leave. The fans that are here are your true football fans. Football will never (be big) because of basketball. This is a basketball town. (Locksley) has everything against him.”
Locksley apparently isn’t as jaded.
“I think the diehards will be there,” Locksley said. “This is the first phase of a renovation. I still have the utmost confidence in the players and coaches in that locker room.”
But does everybody else?
Maybe it doesn’t take a village to raise a child. Just a family. Undoubtedly, the Lobos’ locker-room bond will be tested mightily in the upcoming weeks.