Rocky Long spent 11 seasons (1998-2008) as the head coach at his alma mater, stepping down on Nov. 17, 2008. Under Long, the University of New Mexico experienced unparalleled success. The Lobos' winningest head coach, Long's 65-69 career record did little to explain the dramatic improvement made under his watch. The facts and figures below clearly illustrate the tremendous progress New Mexico football enjoyed under Rocky Long:
Academics The program's top-15 semester grade-point-averages have been achieved in the past 17 semesters
UNM had a program best 2.79 GPA in the spring of 2008, plus a 2.98 in the summer of `08
UNM produced 73 academic all-conference performers since 2001
In 2007, seniors Cody Kase and Vince Natali were named Academic All-America...they were the only two players from the Mountain West Conference to make this prestigious team...senior Zach Arnett was a first team selection in 2008
Competition UNM was the only school in the Mountain West Conference to be bowl eligible every year from 2001-07, including three straight bowl appearances (2002-04) for the first time in school history, and five postseason showings in a six-year span (2002-07)
New Mexico was the only school in the MWC that won at least 6 games every season from 2001-07...that's also a first in the history of the Lobo program
A total of 49 victories from 2001-07 - an average of 7 a season - for the most prosperous 7-year span in school history
A 34-26 conference record from 2001-08, the 3rd-most wins in the league over that period behind BYU and Utah
From 2001-07, UNM was the only team in the MWC that did not have a losing record in conference play
Recognition 10 All-Americans from 2001-08
10 NFL Draft picks from 1999-2008
34 first team all-MWC honorees from 2003-08, more than any other school in the league over that span
Attendance New Mexico fans were responsible for three straight school records (2003-04-05) for season tickets sold and annual average attendance
More than 13,200 season tickets have been sold every year since 2001, including a school-record 17,466 in 2008
After winning three games in Long's inaugural season of 1998, New Mexico increased its victory total each of the next five years, reaching eight wins and a second straight bowl in 2003. No other coach in the history of Lobo football could make that claim. In fact, no other school in NCAA Div. I-A football duplicated UNM's stair-stepping feat from 1999-2003.
Gridiron pundits annually underestimated UNM's finish in the conference race. The Lobos were picked seventh in 1999 and finished in a tie for fifth. A consensus last-place selection in 2000, UNM again tied for fifth. In 2001, the experts said seventh and the Lobos tied for third. The crystal ball remained cloudy in `02 as New Mexico finished alone in second place after a sixth-place prediction. Only in 2003 did UNM finally gather a smidge of preseason respect. The Lobos were picked to finish second, and did. The experts said fourth place in 2004. Incorrect again as UNM placed second. They predicted fourth in 2007, but the Lobos tied for third.
Although he starred for UNM at quarterback, Long's coaching trademark is because of his defensive prowess. His team's indecipherable alignments - since emulated by numerous collegiate programs - have provided success with undersized and possibly less-talented players.
Remarkably, New Mexico was one of only three schools to have its defense rank in the top-30 nationally every season between 2000-04, the others being perennial national powers Oklahoma and Texas.
In 2007, the Lobos finished 13th in the nation in total defense, allowing just 319.9 yards, the highest ranking in Long's tenure as head coach. UNM allowed just six points in the final two games of the season, the fewest in consecutive games since 1963.
Long's teams proved to be nothing if not resilient especially after some slow starts. New Mexico had a 5-1 stretch midway through the 2000 season. It won four of its last five games to close out 2001. Five wins in the last seven games in 2002 pushed the Lobos into a bowl for the second time in more than 40 years. A 7-1 mark the final two months of 2003 earned a repeat bowl appearance, a feat last accomplished after the 1945-46 seasons. In 2004, a five-game winning streak to end the regular season produced another bowl. In 2006, New Mexico closed the regular season 4-2 to clinch another bowl appearance. And, in 2007, it was a 5-2 finish for a fifth bowl game in the past six seasons.
A three-time academic all-conference recipient when he attended UNM, Long also places an emphasis on the term "student-athlete." The Lobos compiled a program record 2.79 grade-point-average for the 2008 spring semester, the highest average since the school began tracking grades in 1988. In fact, 15 of the team's top-17 semester GPAs occurred during Long's tenure at UNM, all from 2000-08.
1998: Upon taking over the Lobo football program prior to the 1998 season, the unassuming Long understood that the team was coming off its best campaign in 36 years - 9-4 in `97 - and that the strength of a deep 1997 senior class was punctuated with a division title and the school's first bowl game since John F. Kennedy was in the White House.
Getting a late jump on recruiting, it was predictable that Long's first Lobo team would be young and inexperienced and the 3-9 record showed exactly that. Just two starters returned on defense and five on offense; in essence two-thirds of the starting lineup from the previous season's championship team was gone. Long realized that he and his staff would experience growing pains, especially being a first-year head coach. However, Long also had enough confidence in his ability that any struggles would be temporary.
1999: Long's second team improved to 4-7 overall and a solid 3-4 in league play to tie for fifth place. After winning two of its first three conference games, including its second straight victory at San Diego State, UNM was just a game out of first. However, three losses followed to eliminate New Mexico from bowl contention and the conference race. It would have been easy for the team to play out the season, but that didn't happen. UNM pulled up its bootstraps and closed the year with a dramatic 33-28 triumph over Air Force, a win that infused a lot more energy into the off-season.
Brian Urlacher, whom Long moved to free safety before the 1998 season, became the most decorated player in school history, earning consensus All-America honors. A finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back, Urlacher's skills were not confined to playing free safety either. He caught six touchdown passes as a receiver and returned punts and kickoffs to the amazement of all who saw him play.
Urlacher was a first-round selection of the Chicago Bears in 2000, and was almost immediately inducted into the Monsters-of-the-Midway pantheon alongside names like Butkus and Singletary. Shifting to middle linebacker early in the season, Urlacher was named NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year and earned a spot on the Pro Bowl roster.
2000: Picked to finish seventh or eighth in the MWC, the Lobos were 5-7 and ended in a fifth-place tie at 3-4. The squad came within an eyelash of being something really special.
A rough start had UNM winless after three games. Little did anyone know at the time that the Lobos' first three opponents - Texas Tech, Boise State and Oregon State - would combine for a 26-8 regular-season record and all play in bowl games. Oregon State finished No. 4 in the country with an 11-1 record after destroying Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. The Lobos led the Beavers 20-14 going into the fourth quarter before falling 28-20.
Buoyed by the confidence of playing four competitive quarters against a tough Pac-10 team, the Lobos went 5-1 in their next six games to become a legitimate contender for the MWC title. UNM ripped Wyoming at home then took eventual conference champ Colorado State down to the wire in Fort Collins before falling in the final period, 17-14. New Mexico made it two straight over Air Force with a convincing win at the Academy followed by a defensive gem against Utah, 10-3.
The Lobos were 3-1 in the league and in the hunt for the conference crown going into the final three games of the season. UNM needed two wins to clinch an unfathomable bowl berth. Narrow losses to San Diego State (17-16) and UNLV (18-14) dashed the postseason hopes.
The 2000 UNM defense was the best in 38 years, allowing just 309.4 yards a game, good for 17th nationally. The Lobos led the Mountain West in turnover margin, rushing defense, pass efficiency defensive rating and sacks, and at one point held five straight teams under 300 yards total offense - a first since the 1964 season.
2001: A 1-3 start did not deter the mission as UNM rattled off five victories in its last seven games to finish 6-5, Long's first winning season and only the Lobos' fifth since 1979. New Mexico was picked to finish seventh in the MWC, but recorded a 4-3 mark to tie Utah for third. Improvement was made on both sides of the ball and in the stands.
The offensive averages increased by more than eight points and 110 yards a game from the previous season. The stingy defense again finished in the top-20, allowing just 310.8 yards a game - 18th nationally - including a school-record-low 87.4 rushing yards a contest. UNM held its last five foes to less than 300 yards of offense.
The Lobos won at Wyoming for the first time in 20 years, beat Air Force for the third straight year, triumphed at San Diego State for an unprecedented third consecutive time and held explosive BYU to its fewest points of the season. A bowl berth all came down to a mid-November showdown with Colorado State. The battle-tested Rams won 24-17, but the defiant Lobos came back the next weekend to blast in-state rival New Mexico State 53-0 and finish with a winning record.
Arguably the biggest improvement came at the ticket counter. Thanks to a beautiful expansion in the north end of the stadium, the addition of the LoboVision videoboard and some pretty competitive football, attendance at home games soared by 32 percent. UNM set school records for total attendance (187,608) and average attendance (31,268).
2002: Long held together a team that was 2-4, had just been belted 49-0 on national television and had just lost its starting quarterback to a broken arm for possibly the rest of the season. Such was the case on Sept. 27 after Texas Tech left town. Somehow, the ship was righted and the Lobos started winning football games.
Adjustments - made for a variety of reasons - became the buzzword the last half of the season. The once-proud defense was suddenly allowing yardage in massive chunks, especially through the air. Changes were followed by improvement and the results were borderline fiction.
While most folks remained non-believers, the New Mexico team with just eight seniors participating won at UNLV for the first time ever, toppled San Diego State in Albuquerque for the first time in 19 years and defeated BYU in Provo for the first time since 1971 when Long was the Lobos' quarterback. When the dust settled, UNM was 7-6 overall and 5-2 in MWC action. Confidence had been restored, New Mexico finished as high as second in conference play for only the third time in the past 30 years and a rare bowl-game invitation was enthusiastically accepted.
Calling it "the gutsiest team he has ever been around," Long's fifth Lobo team embodied all that its head coach represents: hard work, unselfishness and humility.
2003: If Long thought his 2002 team was the gutsiest team he has ever been around, then the 2003 edition was absolutely the toughest, a mirror image of its head coach. Arguably possessing the best collection of talent in his tenure at UNM, the Lobos placed 13 players on the all-conference first or second team, at the time the highest number in school history. The result of the diligence was consecutive bowl appearances for the first time in 57 years.
An 8-4 regular-season record and another second-place finish in the MWC was highlighted by a 47-35 win at No. 23 Utah, the Lobos' first victory over a ranked team on the road in 28 years. Every attendance record was shattered and the Lobos were among the nation's leaders in offense and defense. Of course, they again led the MWC in sacks and rushing defense.
After starting 1-3, the Lobos reeled off seven wins in their last eight games, including the school's first four-game winning streak since 1997 and the first unbeaten October since 1959. New Mexico beat defending conference champ Colorado State for the first time in eight years and knocked off Air Force for the fourth time in the past five years. UNM also recorded its biggest win ever at Wyoming, despite four hours sleep due to travel complications, and snow and sub-zero temperatures at kickoff.
2004: The 2004 season heightened the stature of New Mexico football even more. After losing 14 starters - including eight first- or second-team all-conference performers plus the school's most successful quarterback - from the previous year's Las Vegas Bowl team, a middle-of-the-pack finish was predicted. As the straight shooting Long annually says, don't pay attention to the preseason prognostications.
After a 2-4 start, the Lobos closed the regular season with a five-game winning streak to claim second place outright in the Mountain West Conference for the third straight year. That translated into the aforementioned third consecutive bowl appearance for the first time in Lobo history.
2005: If there was a season that could be categorized as disappointing, it could be this one. Armed with a load of talented seniors, UNM was picked to finish second in the Mountain West. A 3-0 start, including a win at Missouri, helped to intensify the expectations. It was a bizarre season, though, as the Lobos won their final three MWC road games, but dropped their final three encounters at University Stadium.
Needing a win in the season finale to claim a fourth straight bowl trip, UNM lost at home and had to play the waiting game with a bowl-eligible 6-5 record. None of the pieces fell into place and the Lobos stayed home.
New Mexico had seven players earn first team all-conference honors, including senior DonTrell Moore for the fourth consecutive season. Moore became just the sixth player in NCAA history to rush for 1,000 yards in four seasons and was named MWC Offensive Player of the Year. Hank Baskett and his 1,071 yards gave the Lobos their first 1,000-yard rusher and receiver in the same season while center Ryan Cook was all-MWC for the third straight year.
For the third straight year, UNM set school record for season tickets (17,404), and average attendance (38,341), including a record 44,760 against New Mexico State.
2006: The story of the 2006 team was one of struggle, perseverance, promise and redemption. With stunning losses, devastating injuries, breakthrough performances and thrilling victories, New Mexico went through it all. Long admitted that this raw, young team may not have been the best squad he's had in Albuquerque, but he is certain that no group of players played with the same fortitude and tenacity.
A season that appeared to be an uphill climb to begin with suddenly became a mountain ascent when the Lobos fell to Division I-AA Portland State in the opener and lost third-year starting quarterback Kole McKamey on the third play of its second game. UNM started three different quarterbacks for the first time since 1991. It was an extremely young team as just five seniors started and that included the kicker. Only nine seniors saw significant playing time.
Certainly a highlight was the emergence of redshirt freshman quarterback Donovan Porterie. Sitting with a 2-4 record and down by 14 points on the road at UNLV, Porterie staged what would become a common theme in October: The comeback. Porterie and the Lobos erased a 14-point second half deficit to down the Rebels in overtime. One week later, UNM trailing Utah 24-3 late in the first half. Porterie ignited one of the greatest comebacks in school history as the Lobos rallied for a 34-31 victory. One week later, the unflappable rookie directed another rally at Colorado State. UNM trailed 19-10, but pulled out a 20-19 triumph on a last-second field goal.
The Lobos clinched their fourth bowl appearance in the past five seasons with a resounding 41-14 win over San Diego State. However, UNM fell to San Jose State in the inaugural New Mexico Bowl, suffering its first losing season (6-7) since 2000.
2007: "We knocked down some doors," said Long after the Lobos finished 9-4, becoming just the fourth New Mexico team in 109 seasons of football to win 9 games.
Calling it the best team he's had in terms of chemistry and senior leadership, UNM blanked Nevada 23-0 in the New Mexico Bowl, giving the Lobos their first bowl victory since 1961. Most impressive about the bowl win was the score. Nevada had not been shutout in 329 games - a span covering 27 years - for the longest current streak in the NCAA and the second longest all-time in college football.
A school record eight Lobos were voted to the all-Mountain West Conference first team. New Mexico's eight first team honorees led the MWC, were the most in the conference since 2001 and matched the second most by one team in league history.
A real success story was former walk-on John Sullivan, a senior kicker who was named a consensus All-American after leading the nation in field goals with 29. UNM was also just one of three Football Bowl Subdivision schools to produce a 3,000-yard passer (Donovan Porterie), a 1,000-yard rusher (Rodney Ferguson) and two 1,000-yard receivers (Marcus Smith and Travis Brown). The defense was 13th-best in the nation, allowing just 320 yards a game.
New Mexico finished 6-1 at University Stadium, the most home wins since the 1939 Lobos went 6-0 during an 8-2 season.
A huge highlight of the non-conference season was a 29-27 victory at Arizona, the Lobos' first win over a Pac-10 team on the road since 1979.
2008: Rocky Long's final season at New Mexico certainly did not go as planned. The primary cause of a 4-8 season was the abundance of injuries: starting QB Donovan Porterie went down midway through the fourth game of the season, and nearly two dozen surgeries were required for frontline players after the season ended.
There were certainly highlights, though. The Lobos took down Arizona for the second year in a row. The Wildcats finished 8-5 and beat BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. UNM scored 19 points in the fourth quarter to rally past New Mexico State in Las Cruces, 35-24. It's the sixth straight win over the Aggies. The Lobos blanked Wyoming 24-0 for their first conference shutout since 1983 and blitzed San Diego State 70-7, tying a school and conference record with eight rushing TDs.
Senior Rodney Ferguson rushed for 1,105 yards, giving UNM a 1,000-yard ground gainer for seven consecutive seasons while senior CB Glover Quin set a school mark in just three seasons with 31 career pass breakups.
A stellar high school athlete in the mid-60s at Alta Loma High School in Cucamonga, Calif., Long was actually paid a home recruiting visit by Bob Knight, trying to lure Long to play basketball at Army.
That Long slipped under the radar in football is an understatement. Playing in a Southern California high school all-star game following his senior season in August of 1968, Long was the only prep player on the field who did not have a college scholarship. A UNM assistant coach attending the game later phoned and offered Long, which he gratefully accepted.
Originally a defensive back, Long became a standout quarterback for UNM from 1969-71. He was a three-year starter, won the Western Athletic Conference offensive player of the year award (1971) and was named the Lobos' team MVP all three seasons. Long was also a co-captain in 1969 - the first sophomore in the Modern Era to earn that distinction - and the team captain again as a senior in 1971.
With Long engineering the option attack, New Mexico recorded its two most prolific rushing seasons in school history, averaging a school-record 384.5 yards per game in 1971 and 350.1 yards in 1970. Long finished his career ranked No. 1 on the UNM all-time rushing list with 2,071 yards, and he is still among the top-10. He still ranks fourth in all-time rushing attempts (469) and is seventh in career total offense (4,461 yards).
The Lobos achieved remarkable prosperity with Long at the helm, recording back-to-back winning seasons in 1970-71, and totaling a cumulative 17-12-2 record over the three-year span. In fact, the 1970-71 Lobos were the last team to have consecutive winning seasons until the 1996-97 squads matched the feat.
Additionally, Long was a three-time academic all-conference selection, recipient of the WAC Scholar Athlete Award (1970) and an honorable mention Academic All-America in 1969. He was awarded an NCAA postgraduate scholarship in 1972, and earned his bachelor's degree in Secondary Education from UNM in 1974.
In the summer of 1971, Long joined Johnny Musso (Alabama), Lydell Mitchell (Penn State) and Stan Mauldin (Texas) as one of four NCAA players to visited U.S. servicemen in Vietnam.
In 1996, Long was named to the University of New Mexico Hall of Honor, an award given to alumni who advance the mission of intercollegiate athletics, promote pride among the Alumni Lettermen at UNM and educate future generations with regard to UNM's athletics traditions and history. Long's qualifications for the distinction were in evidence even during his playing days, when he was a two-time winner of the Chuck Cummings Memorial Award, given to the player with the best morale and spirit.
Long played professionally upon finishing his career at UNM, hooking up as a defensive back and returning punts with British Columbia of the CFL in 1972-73 and again from 1975-77. He also played with the Detroit Wheels of the World Football League in 1974.
Long came to UNM after serving two seasons (1996-97) as the defensive coordinator at UCLA. The Bruins played in the 1998 Cotton Bowl, squelching Texas A&M 29-23. Ironically, that bowl game was Long's first as a player or as a coach. Long's defense was superior the entire 1997 season, finishing second in the nation in turnover margin (+20), 15th in rushing defense (108.3 ypg), 15th in pass efficiency defense (103.84 rating) and 33rd in scoring defense (20.4 ppg). Long's 1996 Bruin defense finished third in the Pac-10 and was ranked 23rd in the nation against the run.
Prior to his days in Westwood, Long spent five years at Oregon State as defensive coordinator, where the Beavers recorded three of the school's top-10 rushing defense totals. Before that, Long spent three years as TCU's secondary coach, which was preceded by a two-year stint as linebackers coach for the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League.
From 1981-85, Long spent time in Laramie, Wyo., as defensive coordinator/secondary coach for the University of Wyoming. He actually had a previous stint with UNM before becoming a Cowboy, as a secondary coach from 1979-80, an offensive backfield coach in 1978 and as a graduate assistant in 1972-73.
Rocky Long was born on January 27, 1950, in Provo, Utah, while his father, Rod, was playing at BYU. The elder Long was a three-year letterman (end) at BYU from 1948-50, and a 33-year coaching veteran in California high schools and colleges.
Long is married to the former Debby Meerdink, who is a 1972 graduate of the UNM School of Nursing. The couple has two daughters, Roxanne and Hannah, and both are coaches. Roxanne is a 1998 graduate of the University of Oklahoma where she was a four-year letterwinner for the Sooners' basketball team. She is currently the head women's basketball coach at Texas Lutheran University. Hannah, a former volleyball and basketball player at Portland State, received her master's degree in Higher Education from Texas A&M and is currently the head women's volleyball coach at Southwestern (Texas) University.