Tuesday, December 20, 2005 | Welcome to San Diego, Chuck Long. You’ve got a tough job ahead of you to win as San Diego State’s new football coach. You’ll soon learn why it’s been so hard for so long for the Aztecs to identify the right man for the job at the right time.

I was someone who felt Tom Craft deserved another year to turn around San Diego State’s football program, but I have to applaud athletic director Jeff Schemmel for identifying you as the right match to complete a tricky and difficult job started by Craft.

You’re young, 42. You’ve got valuable name recognition and connections, although you’ll have to explain to most high school recruits that you’re a former NFL first-round draft pick who played quarterback in the NFL (I know because I asked a couple San Diego recruits and you pre-date their football frame of reference).

You’re eager to prove yourself in your first opportunity as a head coach. You have an impressive coaching pedigree that includes time learning under Hayden Fry, Bill Snyder and Bob Stoopes.

Although you still need to prove you’re head-coach material, I feel more comfortable with the Aztecs handing you SDSU’s future than a retread like Dennis Erickson, Bob Toledo or Rick Neuheisel.

Erickson would have brought a gangster image to San Diego with his recruits, Neuheisel’s baggage would have filled Lindbergh when he landed and Toledo allowed things to unravel at UCLA after inheriting Terry Donahue’s program.

Such retreads also might have retired on the job once they realized winning at San Diego State isn’t as easy as it looks from the outside. That’s what Denny Stolz did to us when he inherited Doug Scovil’s talent in 1986, won the Western Athletic Conference title and accompanying Holiday Bowl berth and then promptly retired on the job until he was let go two miserable years later.

Similar to Stolz, you’ll like the talent you’re inheriting. You can win right away. Craft’s first real recruiting class is preparing for its redshirt junior season and is now mature enough to compete in the competitive and balanced Mountain West Conference.

I’m glad to hear you praise Craft for the building blocks he has left you. But don’t let Craft’s detractors tell you San Diego talent hasn’t been tapped. You’d be misinformed.

You probably won’t keep a Marcus Allen or a Reggie Bush away from USC, but you’re benefiting from Craft beating Bowl Championship Series schools on Kevin O’Connell, Brett Swain, Reggie Grigsby, Russell Allen, DeMarco Sampson and others from San Diego high schools and Lynell Hamilton, Chaz Schiliens, Jonathan Bailes, Antwan Applewhite and others from outside San Diego.

In San Diego’s recruiting class this year, you’re too late for Menelik Holt, the St. Augustine wide receiver who is committed to Nebraska (he looks like NFL material to me); Josh Holmes, a Point Loma defensive lineman committed to Miami; or Darius Savage, a Morse lineman committed to UCLA.

But you’re not too late for Travis Goethel, the Vista linebacker leaning toward Utah. Some others who are uncommitted you should take a look at are Oceanside linebacker Justin Nonu, Poway running back Brandon Sullivan, Cathedral Catholic running back Demetrius Sumler, Cathedral offensive lineman Cody Pope, Bonita Vista wide receiver Pierce Holt and Eastlake linebacker Marcus Yarborough.

If you’re smart, you’ll make a run at Mira Mesa quarterback Mike Coughlin. You’ll love his arm, his size and his bloodlines. He’s the great grandson of Brick Muller, a San Diego High alumnus who was the first All-American from the West at Cal in 1922 (it’s time for you to start learning sports history in your new hometown).

Coughlin orally committed last summer to Boise State, but the door might be open since he was interested in staying home and Boise State has changed coaches.

Another kid you want to look at is El Cajon Valley’s Abraham Muheize. He’s an instinctive athlete from Mark Malone’s high school who plays bigger than his size or low recruiting profile. He wants to go away to college, but he’s been overlooked in the recruiting game so he’d be wise to be all ears.

Any new coach needs to bring a new climate to the locker room, and something was certainly missing at SDSU with the Aztecs’ poor performances against UNLV and New Mexico that cost them a bowl game. But be careful of criticizing the coaching in the past.

The players you’ve inherited respected and admired Craft and his staff. When the Aztecs won and retreated to the locker room to celebrate, Craft could quiet them by simply walking to the center of the room as a signal to call them together.

You’ll benefit from Craft and his staff being excellent teachers of the game. Don Coryell, the legendary SDSU and NFL coach who spent time around the team every year and was upset at the news of Craft’s dismissal, loved the teaching he witnessed at practice. Ed Burke, one of our high school coaching legends at Torrey Pines who knows football as well as any NFL or college coach, also was impressed.

Something else you have going for you, I’m assuming, is no bad blood between you and Ken Delgado. He’s a former SDSU defensive coordinator who had a falling out with Craft years ago when they served as assistants under Ted Tollner.

When Craft got the SDSU job four years ago it meant Delgado wouldn’t be staying. Delgado has moved on and done well as Cal’s defensive line coach, but his bitter backers in San Diego went on alert and watched Craft closely for any missteps.

When Craft foolishly did what college coaches sometimes do – bend the rules on offseason practices – Delgado’s backers were there to document it and report it to the NCAA. It ultimately led to Craft’s undoing, although we may never know the full story of how it all played out.

I know, the Delgado chapter sounds petty and hard to believe, doesn’t it?

But that dysfunctional environment in San Diego State athletics led Schemmel to secretly go about interviewing you and others and keep his decision tightly under wraps. But when you’re new to a job, like Schemmel, and you’ve heard horror stories about people with loose lips undermining their own school, taking extreme steps was a prudent course.

Chuck, I think you’re the right man for San Diego State football to start with a clean slate. If you are, and you not only win but win by throwing the ball in the Coryell tradition, the rest of college football will soon learn San Diego is a football town that loves the college game, too.

Tom Shanahan has been writing about San Diego athletes at the professional, collegiate and high school levels for 27 years. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions (www.sdhoc.com). You can e-mail him at

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.