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Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2008 | San Diego State’s football team must be wishing it had the luxury of jetting off to London the way the Chargers did after their loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Well, you’d think Aztecs head coach Chuck Long would rather see the sun coming up in London than San Diego after SDSU’s 70-7 loss Saturday at New Mexico. He could escape some of the wrath of Aztecs fans.
But that’s what I find most interesting about the difficult situation Long is in now that the injury-ravaged Aztecs have dropped to 1-6 this year and 8-23 in his third season. The Aztecs are so devastated by injuries, particularly to the defensive line, it’s possible they won’t win another game this year.
“The sun came up today,” Long said in his office Sunday. “It’s a little hard to see, but it’s there.”
About now, if Long were like a lot coaches, he’d either be losing his composure on the sidelines (see Joe Glenn, Wyoming, 2007, flipping off Utah’s coaches) or in press conferences (see Rich Rodriguez, Michigan, 2008, in response to a question about Michigan fans booing) or he’d be retreating into a bunker (see Tom Craft, SDSU, 2005, in response to so many people that undermined him).
But Long has the temperament to forge ahead.
“I’m not going to give in,” he said. “We have a plan in place; it’s gone a little slower (than expected), but it’s a plan that is still in place. I’m confident in my staff. We have a good coaching staff that works hard and is diligent. We see good things with our team with changes taking place that are positive off the field. Things are happening behind the scenes, but we’re struggling on Saturday. But I know that will turn around too.”
Look, SDSU was picked to finish at the bottom of the Mountain West Conference standings. Were the Aztecs supposed to defy those odds after losing five defensive linemen to injuries for the season?
SDSU’s third season under Long is eerily beginning to resemble UNLV in 2007 under Mike Sanford. Sanford’s third team started 2-2 before it spiraled to a 2-10 finish.
The UNLV president was forced to make a statement that Sanford would return for his fourth year, a season that subsequently started out 3-1. The Rebels are now 3-4 after Air Force came from behind to beat UNLV last week. You don’t win games in the Mountain West without veteran defensive players to handle so many different styles of defenses found in the league. UNLV almost had enough to beat Air Force.
Would the Rebels be 3-4 without Sanford? My guess is they would be worse off if they had to start over again with another new coach.
And that’s where San Diego State finds itself once again. Do they start over or see if Long can right the ship with time?
Wyoming’s Glenn was considered the program’s savior when he led the Cowboys to a Las Vegas Bowl win over UCLA. Now what? He’s clinging to his job.
UTEP’s Mike Price was considered the Miners’ savior when he turned around the team his first year. But just last week, Price’s Miners gave up 77 points in a loss to Tulsa.
Washington State changed coaches this year, hiring Paul Wulff to replace Bill Doba after his team finished 5-7. Wulff’s Cougars are 1-8 and have given up 60-plus points three times this year.
Make no mistake about it: SDSU’s 70-7 loss was ugly.
“My apologies to San Diego State, our fans and our supporters,” Long said. “They must be angry; I know they are angry, and I deserve it. We’ve hit bottom, so we know what that looks like, but inch by inch we’ll get out of it.”
If you look around football, there are more and more games with ugly scores. I think football, with its wide open offenses, is getting like basketball. A good basketball team can lose a game by 20 or 30 points and not be defined by that loss.
In recent years, Denny Stolz, Al Luginbill, Ted Tollner and Tom Craft didn’t have the proper temperament to turn around a dysfunctional program with so many holes that needed plugged.
Stolz retired on the job; Luginbill was as erratic as John McCain talking about the economy; Tollner didn’t decorate his new office in the Aztec Athletic Center because he knew it was his last year; and Craft was driven into the bunker by so many people out to get him.
Here’s something Long said that you never heard any of his predecessors say: “I want them (fans) to be angry at me and not at my staff and players.”
Long isn’t looking for an easy way out. If he was, then it would be time to change coaches.
Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to the editor.