New Mexico Bowl

New Mexico (8-4) vs. Nevada (6-6)

at Albuquerque, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Dec. 22

The quarterbacks are in charge at the New Mexico Bowl.

Nevada coach Chris Ault and New Mexico's Rocky Long have overseen their teams for years, of course, but an interesting sidelight to their bowl matchup is that both are former quarterbacks who became head coaches at their old schools.

They agreed it provides a different perspective on the job.

"When you're an alum of your university, your coaching feelings run deeper than most coaches," said Ault, a Wolf Pack quarterback from 1965-67. "You can't command it. It's just there. Things that happen, you take them a little deeper."

Long, who took snaps for the Lobos from 1969-71, was defensive coordinator at Wyoming, Oregon State and UCLA before being hired to direct New Mexico's program in 1998. There was a difference in his first head coaching job.

"You're emotionally tied to the school. You're emotionally tied to the program," Long said. "I don't know if it means you work harder, but you put a little more of yourself into it. It's a lot more than just a job."

Long sometimes discusses games, recruits or events by explaining where they fit in the context of New Mexico's program.

College football thrives on its history, nationally and regionally. Long said any coach who doesn't understand his program's history does so at his own peril, and that's where an alum who coaches the team might have an advantage.

"There's been a couple cases here lately where coaches have lost jobs because they didn't embrace the history of the program," Long said. "They thought they were going to come in and do it their way, and it kind of backfired."

For example, recently fired Nebraska coach Bill Callahan alienated fans by eliminating a walk-on program that thrived under former coach Tom Osborne, producing quality players and helping rural fans connect to the team.

As for Ault, he's practically a walking media guide on Nevada football.

The Hall of Fame coach took over the Wolf Pack program from 1976-92, guiding Nevada as it started at Division II, moved through the I-AA ranks in the Big Sky Conference and ultimately to Division I.

He also served as Nevada's athletics director from 1986-2003 and returned to coach football from 1994-95 after a one-year break. When Nevada needed a coach in 2003, he stepped down as AD to take up his whistle one more time.

As an alum, administrator and coach, Ault said he feels strongly invested.

"The beauty of my situation is I'm one of the few people at the university who can connect the past with the present," he said. "I really believe in that. I'm a great traditionalist. I believe in tradition, not just in athletics but for the university itself."

When it comes to the X's and O's, however, Ault and Long really can't rely on what they learned when they suited up.

After all, the game has changed radically since their playing days, and Long evolved into a defensive coach, the architect of a blitz-crazy 3-3-5 scheme that has drawn national acclaim for its effectiveness.

"There's nothing we do that was like when I was playing. There's nothing he does that he did when he was playing," Long said.

Ault agreed, saying if he tossed 20 passes during a game, he might have needed an ice pack afterward. But he has found a few carryovers from quarterback to coach, mostly when it comes to leadership and game management.

"I don't really reflect back too much on my days a a player to my team," Ault said, "because most of them would just laugh.")

New Mexico recent local history

Year Bowl Opponent Result Score2006 New Mexico Bowl San Jose State Lost 20-122004 Emerald Bowl Navy Lost 34-192003 Las Vegas Bowl Oregon State Lost 55-142002 Las Vegas Bowl UCLA Lost 27-131997 Bowl Arizona Lost 20-14