(PHOTO: Former UNM Head Coach Rocky Long, who changed offensive schemes at UNM repeatedly)
After starting the season with a new coach, a flashy new offense and high hopes, the 2009 University of New Mexico football team is limping toward the finish line, 0-10 with two games left to play.
What went wrong?
Many will point to the off-field distractions, in particular head coach Mike Locksley's involvement in a harassment lawsuit and a physical altercation between him and one of his assistant coaches, an altercation that got Locksley suspended for 10 days this season.
Others say that it's because Locksley doesn't have the right athletes for the "spread" offense.
The real problem, in my opinion, is what has been going on for years in the football program: the pointless and repeated changing of offensive systems.
It seems like almost every spring, the head coach decides to scrap the existing offense and install a new one. This was common practice under former head coach Rocky Long, and as soon as Locksley took over, he too installed a new offense.
This has done nothing but make life more difficult for the players on offense, who actually are very good athletes. Almost every year, they have to figure out yet another offense, and as a result, they start off the season confused and out of sync. And in years like this one, they go into a downward spiral that they can't pull out of.
Donovan Porterie, the starting quarterback, has had to learn four different offenses in his five years at UNM. He has never been allowed to settle into one system and gain a mastery of it. Instead, his talent has been squandered as he has been forced to waste time and effort learning system after system.
As a fifth-year senior starting quarterback, Porterie should be like another coach, coolly and confidently mentoring the backs and receivers and guiding them along in a system he knows inside and out. Instead, he's in the same boat as the underclassmen, trying to make sense out of one complex system after another.
Kole McKamey, who was the Lobos' quarterback before Porterie and is now the UNM football color commentator on AM 770, remarked on the air earlier this season that he had to learn four different offenses during his career at UNM. Tellingly, he also stated that learning a new offense is like learning a new language, and that as a player, if you have to think about the plays when you're out on the field, you're done.
Why put the players through this? It has done nothing to improve the program. Porterie really got the hang of the last offense, in 2007, throwing for 3,006 yards and leading the team to a 9-4 record. Then, in 2008, the team struggled because of a rash of injuries, including a season-ending knee injury to Porterie. It wasn't the offensive system that caused the disappointing year.
When Locksley took over, he should have kept the old offense in place, recognizing that Porterie had a strong grasp of it going into his fifth and final season as a Lobo quarterback.
If Locksley really wanted to install his own offense, the "spread", he should have delayed that until spring practice of 2010, when Porterie's career will be over and Porterie will be replaced by one of the younger quarterbacks coming up through the system.
I just hope Locksley, if he can keep his job, keeps this new offense so future Lobo quarterbacks and receivers can learn it, master it, and win, and realize their full potential as players.