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Dick Harmon: New MWC coaches add intrigue

Published: Saturday, Dec. 27 2008 12:58 a.m. MST

Agents of change. Hired guns.

How will recent coaching changes in the Mountain West affect the football title race next season?

It appears Wyoming, New Mexico and San Diego State are doing everything possible to jump start offenses and recruit at a higher level to compete with Utah, TCU and BYU, the top three finishers this past season.

They're hired to put a premium on explosive offenses — the dreaded spread — now the fashion from coast to coast. Recruiting, as expected, will be top of the list.

They take over three MWC programs that finished a combined 4-20 in the standings in 2008. Their combined overall records, counting patsies and big wins like Wyoming's upset of Tennessee in Knoxville, stood at 10-26.

Wyoming, New Mexico and SDSU. Will they progress enough to overcome UNLV (2-6, 5-7) and move into the middle of the pack with CSU (4-4, 6-6) and Air Force (5-3, 8-4)? Will any of them get six wins and to a bowl like Steve Fairchild did in Fort Collins, turning things around in one season?

What will it take for these three to challenge Utah, 2008's top dog?

Former Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christensen wasted little time at Wyoming in hiring former San Jose State offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo. He then added former Washington strength coach Trent Greener, a former Cowboy player who was released when Steve Sarkisian took over the Husky program.

"Marcus Arroyo is one of the brightest, up-and-coming, spread offensive coordinators in the country," proclaimed the new head Cowboy.

Christensen, who has yet to stack up all his offensive coaches with Arroyo, hired Northern Iowa defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery under D-coordinator Marty English, who hired Mike Fanoga and Alex Grinch for outside linebackers and the secondary.

In Albuquerque, former Illinois assistant coach Mike Locksley fired up the Lobo base by preaching "attack" offense and "attack" defense. Labeled by Rivals.com as one of the "best recruiters around," Locksley has vowed to scrounge around Pac-10 territories in southern California and Arizona and then hit Big 12 country in Texas to find the merchants that will deliver the goods.

In San Diego, former Ball State coach Brady Hoke has had a conversation with former UNM coach Rocky Long, about becoming his defensive coordinator.

Of all these hires, Locksley may be the most interesting and could have the quickest impact, if he can corral the horses. A former recruiter for Maryland and Ron Zook at Florida and Illinois, he's got a proven track record for signing talent and he sees Albuquerque as a gold mind for bringing in players.

"New Mexico fit all the criteria that I was looking for in a program when I did my research," said Locksley, who has interviewed six times for head coaching jobs.

Locksley is one of only a handful of black head coaches hired in college football.

He liked the idea that the UNM president was the first CEO of a major university interviewing him who actually got involved. "They want football to be the face of this university," said Locksley.

He didn't address why UNM gives its basketball coach more freedom in making schedules and it was hoops that got the first lucrative coaching contract in the department when Long was its most successful coach.

Locksley: "I have an action plan with recruiting; you have to. Each year I look at where the prospects are coming from. We will recruit Texas hard because they produce so many players. Of course, you have to start at home, and we will take the best players from this state. Southern California will pay a big part and so will Phoenix."

Locksley said he will also go into conference geography, challenging for players in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

He told reporters, "People need to understand that Albuquerque has one million people and a great airport with direct flights to so many big cities, so we will have the ability to get recruits here. That will open doors for us."

Locksley said he will identify playmakers and attack on both sides of the ball and will have "tempo" and "balance" in his base offense, the spread.

"Everything about this program will be aggressive and attacking. That will be our defense and that will be true with recruiting. I want to recruit the same way I did at Illinois and I want to win the Mountain West."

According to the San Diego Union, Hoke will soon hire his offensive staff, keeping it close to the vest on who the prospects are. It is rumored one candidate could be former UCLA offensive coordinator (1996-97) Al Borges, who resigned at Auburn after the 2007 season.

Regardless of hype dished out for boosters, these three guys have extreme lifting to do.

Merchants of transformation.

How will they do?

It certainly adds an element of intrigue to next year's season, where TCU, Utah and the Cougars should be placed in a yet-to-be announced pecking order in 2009.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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