ALBUQUERQUE — University of New Mexico athletic director Eddie Nuñez is turning to some familiar names from the school’s past to help fine-tune his search for a new football coach.
Nuñez on Tuesday said he has reached out to former head coaches Rocky Long and Dennis Franchione, as well as former Lobo star and pro football Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher to get their insight on what they feel the program needs most.
“I wanted to understand what we needed to do, what we had to do, what are some of the keys and important opportunities for us think about as we go through this process,” Nuñez said.
While there is no timetable for a new hire, the message is clear: The sooner the better.
“I don’t want to be here in January, mid-January because I think we’d have some major issues,” Nuñez said. “I don’t want to set a timetable and say the next week or two or three. We’re going to be aggressive, but I’m going to be thorough and I’m not going to make a decision just to make a decision so I can beat a deadline.”
The search for a new coach began after Bob Davie was fired with two years remaining on a contract that had him through the 2021 season with a base salary (excluding perks that doubled the annual total) of $422,690 a year.
To get out of that deal, UNM first had to reach a financial settlement with Davie. Terms of the buyout have not been revealed and Nuñez refused to answer a question about it Tuesday. He must first get approval on the buyout from the school’s board of regents, to whom he will present the terms during the board’s next meeting on Dec. 10.
For now, the focus is entirely on finding the next coach via a national search. The athletic department has contracted with DHR International to assist in the vetting process.
Nuñez said he will pinpoint prospective candidates and DHR will then contact each coach and determine their level of interest.
“Let’s let it be known, the decision to look at coaches is going to be my decision,” Nuñez said. “They’re not coming with a list and saying these guys are the ones you need to look at. What they’re doing is taking my recommendations, my suggestions and looking into those individuals for us.”
A former basketball player at the University of Florida who then worked in athletic administration at Vanderbilt and LSU, Nuñez’s roots are spread throughout the Southeastern Conference, a Power 5 league long regarded as the premier place for college football. Like most athletic directors tend to do, he’ll rely on those roots to help find the next coach.
“I am going to rely on my background, my connections and my networking,” Nuñez said. “I’m fortunate to have been associated with some wonderful football coaches, but some wonderful administrators, as well. So it’s allowed me the flexibility to reach out to them, get insight, understand who are some viable candidates.”
That’s where his conversations with people like Urlacher, Long and Franchione have helped. In some way, all three experienced the highs and lows of Lobo football and intimately understand the challenges of building a winner at New Mexico.
“The biggest common theme goes back to what we’re talking about here; we need somebody that understands what the expectations are here, where we want to go, the investment in the community, recruiting and how essential it is in certain geographical regions,” Nuñez said.
Nuñez said the ultimate goal is finding a coach who will connect with the community and students, something Davie was not good with. That connection is something Nuñez feels is vital to the long-term growth of the program and is an element that has been long absent for a team that saw attendance at home games drop alarmingly fast in Davie’s last four years with the school.
“The new coach coming in, the new coaching staff coming in, all the students on that team — this is a village approach,” Nuñez said. “We’re all in this together, we’re all going to figure this out together.”
For the time being, special teams coordinator Perry Eliano has been given the title of acting head coach internally, according to Nuñez. Exactly who among Davie’s staff will remain at UNM is entirely up to the new head coach.
Nuñez said he has not begun interviews but expects to start soon, with a list of three to five finalists in the near future. He said he would prefer a coach with head coaching experience from a successful program, but is also considering assistants from similar situations.
“Right now I can tell you there’s a lot of interest,” he said. “Just because they’re interested doesn’t mean we’re interested in them. And I go back to, again, there’s going to be a lot of rumors out there. Please don’t believe everything that you hear.”