Losing permeates state of New Mexico

The sorriest state for college football is New Mexico, where two programs are struggling to do much of anything right.

New Mexico and New Mexico State are two of the worst programs in America, having won a combined four games since the start of 2009.

They are among six winless teams going into their big showdown Saturday in Las Cruces. Hey, at least one team will win. That is probably the best thing you can say about the contest featuring two programs in desperate need of a turnaround.

“When I took this job, I knew it was a graveyard for coaches, but that was a chance I was willing to take,” New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker said. “You’re not going to change a program with a history of losing overnight. Hopefully, the university gives me time to do it right.”

Rebuilding is never easy, and both coaches knew they would be in for many nights of frustration. Walker and New Mexico coach Mike Locksley are in their second seasons trying to put their stamp on the struggling programs, but have been met with unfulfilling results.

New Mexico went 1-11 last season, and New Mexico State went 3-10. A quick look at the NCAA stats this season shows them at the bottom of the rankings.

In total offense, New Mexico State ranks No. 116 and New Mexico No. 118. In total defense, New Mexico ranks No. 116 and New Mexico State No. 120. In scoring defense, they are the two worst in the country. In scoring offense, New Mexico is at No. 117 and New Mexico State is at No. 118. The Lobos are losing by an average of 40 points a game; the Aggies are losing by an average of 34 points a game.

When asked directly whether he thought the two New Mexico teams were the worst in the country, Locksley said, “I haven’t seen enough football to say. I haven’t been happy with the outcome of our games, but I’ve also seen some things in our program that leads us to believe we’re headed in the right direction.”

Locksley survived last season even though he served a 10-day suspension for an altercation with an assistant coach and also was the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit.

But fans have grown disenchanted with him, believing him to be in over his head. There was even a report last month that he would be fired after this game and replaced by former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. Both New Mexico and Leach denied the report.

Either way, New Mexico does have some history of winning. The Lobos have been to 11 bowl games, including a run of five straight between 2002-07 under Rocky Long. New Mexico State has had no such success. The Aggies have only been to three bowl games, and their 49-year bowl drought is the longest among FBS teams.

Some old-time fans point to the curse of Warren Woodson, the last coach to have sustained success at New Mexico State in the 1950s and ‘60s. In 1960, the Aggies posted the only undefeated season in school history and finished the year ranked No. 17 in the AP poll. They beat Utah State in the Sun Bowl -- their last bowl appearance.

But Woodson was forced out after the 1967 season because he was on the verge of 65. University administrators used a state clause that requires employees to retire at that age. New Mexico State has had four winning seasons since then, the last in 2002.

“We have no history of winning,” Walker said. “When we compare our program to New Mexico, Rocky Long built somewhat of a winning program when he was there. When you look at the resources we have compared to New Mexico, it’s not even close.

“I just think at some point, everybody from the administration to the community, we’re going to have to make a decision on how bad do we want a legitimate football program. It’s not about how many head coaches you’re going to bring in to rely on a miracle. We’re going to have to collectively sit down and figure it out.”

Last year, New Mexico State asked fans to donate snacks for its players because the athletic department was forced to trim over $1 million from its budget. The department remains in a deep hole. A university decision earlier this summer to shift $4.1 million annually from education to the athletics program drew faculty outcry.

Both coaches are realistic and know winning is not going to happen overnight. They are asking for patience.

“You want it now and unfortunately we don’t have the control of when that mindset or when that change takes place,” Locksley said. “All you can do is continue to stress the things that are important to your program and continue to recruit to the type of players who fit what you do. ... I see us making small steps toward moving in that direction.”