Nov. 23, 2009
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The theme for the Lobos' "Honorary Coaches Program," is kind of like the old TV show, "Queen For A Day." You grab someone out of the audience and you spoil the heck out of them. You provide an opportunity that doesn't normally come into their lives.
The audience for the UNM athletic department's version of "Coach For A Day," was centered on professionals, professors and administrators on the University of New Mexico's main campus. The reach-out from the Lobos was to pull a few non-jock types over to the athletic side of the campus and let them experience the world of athletics from an insider's view.
Dr. Patricia Covarrubias, a professor in communication and journalism, said she found the experience enlightening and encouraging. She was invited by one of her students, Lobo linebacker Tray Hardaway, to be a Coach For A Day.
"I'm an academic," said Covarrubias. "I'm not really into the athletic programs. So, when a student approaches a professor (with an invite), it's because we have an academic relationship. I thought it was an honor to be selected by one of my students."
What the honor encompasses is a behind-the-scenes look at what a Lobo football player goes through on Game Day. It includes other stuff, too -- like a closer look at the academic support system provided by UNM to its student-athletes.
"I learned a lot about the academic and advisement support provided to athletes," said Robert Burford, a judicial affairs specialist in the Dean of Students Office. "We were shown a lot of behind-the-scenes things that I didn't know went on.
"It was interesting to see what players go through before a game and it helped us understand how structured their time demands are leading up to the game. I enjoyed the experience."
Said Covarrubias: "We were treated like royalty."
The program is similar to ones used at other universities around the country. The intent is to bridge a gap between the academia world on a campus and the world of an athlete, which also is a time-structured world filled with books, classrooms and educational values.
It was Paul Krebs, UNM's Vice President in charge of athletics, who brought the program to UNM. His right-hand tools for implementing the program are Henry Villegas, an Assistant Athletics Director in charge of academics, and Les Myers, the Assistant Director for the Lobo Center for Student-Athlete Success.
Myers coordinates the program during the football stage. There also will be an honorary coaches' program during the Lobos' basketball season.
"We give faculty members, administrators, people on main campus a peek behind the curtain on Game Day," said Myers. "We give them a background of what a player's week is like; the training, class work, meetings, media interviews, everything. We show them it's more than just three hours of going at each other."
Said Laura Valdez, Student Orientation Director in the Dean of Students Office: "I kind of thought the players just showed up an hour before the game, got dressed, and that was that. I have a much better appreciation that it is a full-day ritual.
"I never thought an athlete's life at college was an easy time, but on the other hand, I never realized it was that involved."
The honorary coaches program for football hit all six Lobo home games with three-to-five special coaches honored at each game.
The tour includes the Lobos' pre-game meal, a talk with the UNM coaches, a tour of the Lobo Center for Student-Athlete Success, a look at the athletic training facilities, pre-game taping, a sideline experience, a visit to the End Zone Club, a visit to the coaches' box in the press box, and even includes the post-game grilling of coach Mike Locksley by the media.
One eye-opener on the tour is the Student Support and Services Center which includes the Lobo Center for Student-Athlete Success As much as any UNM facility, the building is a powerful message and symbol to all present and future Lobos that UNM is an institution of higher education that really is committed to the student.
The building made an impression on Covarrubias: "I was very encouraged to see the (athletic) academic advisement provide such a serious approach to the academic side of things for their athletes. I didn't always have that certainty.
"My concern is not really their success as athletes, but their success as students. I have a much better understanding of how I might communicate better with academic advisement so we can all work together for the success of their student-athletes."
Another thing you can't help but be impressed with is the complexity of Game Day that goes beyond the athlete's experience. There are parking issues, tickets to sell, transportation, a press box to prepare, ticket collectors, clean-up, security, concessions, marketing, catering, tailgating -- the list goes on and on.
"I got a great appreciate for what takes place behind the scenes," said Valdez. "I didn't realize how much work went into putting on a game."
Said Burford: "There were a lot of things I had no idea went on."
Still, an emphasis in this program is building a stronger link between the UNM's main campus and the south campus of athletics. The physical nature of the UNM campus creates a, well, physical division. There are Lobo coaches with offices in Johnson Center, but the bulk of the UNM athletic department is a few miles to the South.
The Honorary Coaches Program is designed to shorten that gap and create better understanding and improved communications. For Covarrubias, the experience was successful.
"I wanted to explore ways in which academics and athletics can work more closely together," she said. "I'm a professor, and I'm more into their success as students.
"I appreciate that the academic departments we have on this campus make an effort to work with the faculty so that an athlete not only has the opportunity to be a good athlete, but also has the chance to be a good student.
"I also thought it would be fun and it was. I was at the first home game (Tulsa, Sept. 12) and toward the end of the game, Tray (Hardaway) made a special play. Tray didn't let me down on the field."
If there is a sidebar to this program, it's the athletic department giving a thank-you to the UNM staff on main campus. "We are aware of and we appreciate their efforts," said Myers. "We try to make this a fun thing for them. It is important to us that they enjoy this experience and look at it as a special day."
As Covarrubias put it: "Professors aren't acknowledged very often and when we are, it's a big deal for us."
Said Valdez: "I felt like I won an award when I was selected."
The reach-out from the athletic department to the UNM campus appears to be a huge success and many doors were open for that behind-the-scenes peek. Of course, there was one door on the tour that was off limits even to the Lobos' "Coaches For A Day." There was no access to coach Locksley's halftime message to his Lobo players.
"We decided that might not be the best thing," said a chuckling Myers.