Mumme makes do with less
The New Mexico State coach is not giving up on turning the struggling program around
LAS CRUCES, N.M. » The magnetic depth-chart board is a jumble of nameplates of mostly freshmen and sophomores, some bona fide players, some injured and some who probably don't belong anywhere near a Division I roster, let alone a two-deep. The board looks like the coaches gave up at some point adjusting it, like an unfinished chess game with the pieces left where they were when the frustrated loser knocked over his own king.
But Hal Mumme is far from surrendering, and the board, a focal point of the New Mexico State football meeting room, emanates hope and inspiration.
Hope, in the form of three one dollar bills on the offensive side of the board.
Inspiration, in the nameplate LEAUPEPE on the defensive side.
Next to one dollar bill is written, "Miracle victories are possible." Next to the other two: "Miracle victories are contagious!"
Mumme explained the bills yesterday to visitors from Hawaii, in town because the Aggies (2-4, 0-2 WAC) host the Warriors (4-2, 2-1) tonight. UH is favored heavily to win a second consecutive road game in what is expected to be a wild shootout featuring quarterbacks Colt Brennan of Hawaii and Chase Holbrook of New Mexico State.
The second-year NMSU coach says he isn't a very good golfer, but graduate assistant Bobby Wilcox is the second coming of Tiger Woods.
"I took him out and whipped him out of $1," Mumme said.
And then Mumme won the rematch.
"After I beat him the second time, he refused to play me again."
The Aggies' two wins against 16 losses in his tenure are against Division I-AA teams, but if Mumme can beat Wilcox -- and twice -- the Aggies can beat Boise State, and New Mexico, and Hawaii. Or so the theory goes.
"It hasn't worked for us, yet," he says.
SHANA LEAUPEPE'S nameplate remains on the board, above the word "DEFENSE" and above the names of the other players.
Leaupepe was killed in July in what police described as a random shooting in Long Beach, Calif.
The 6-foot-1, 245-pound linebacker from American Samoa was poised to become the leader of the New Mexico State defense.
"He was our best defensive player, like Jimmy Cottrell (the player he was to replace, who led the nation in tackles last year), tough and intense, but faster," Mumme says. "When Shana was killed our defense became smoke and mirrors."
Leaupepe was among more than a dozen Polynesian players on the Aggies' roster. With the influence of assistant coach Mike Fanoga, who was born in American Samoa, Mumme has had success recruiting Polynesians throughout most of his career.
The Aggies even do a version of the haka, the Maori warrior dance that UH and other teams perform before or after games.
Outside linebacker La'auli Fonoti, who was a dancer at the Polynesian Cultural Center, introduced the haka to his teammates. It was actually safety Eric Carrie who asked Mumme if the team could do it before games. They first performed it at last year's game at Hawaii, according to Mumme.
IF YOU'RE A coach, some stats you know. Mumme knows Holbrook, a sophomore, leads the nation in passing yardage.
Some stats are so bad, you stop keeping track.
Mumme is told his team is 116th in pass defense.
"You mean there's three worse than us?"
Mumme laughs, because that's all he can do. And he can for now, because no one expected him to turn the Aggies around right away. The trophy case is empty except for a couple of balls from the 1959 Sun Bowl, and a bowl full of chile pods (a perpetual trophy retired in the 1980s from the ongoing New Mexico rivalry).
"Those would be fairly hot if you cooked 'em now," Mumme cracks.
His original plan was to be done with the punch lines by this fall and produce the Aggies' fifth winning season in 40 this year and first bowl game in 47. That doesn't seem likely now.
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL is still king in the desert town of Las Cruces, about 40 miles northwest of El Paso, Texas. Around 80,000 people live within the city limits, but the area is growing because of a real-estate boom. Big prep games sometimes draw 25,000 people -- more than the Aggies do, unless they're playing UTEP or New Mexico.
Brad Beasley was born and raised in Las Cruces. After playing college baseball at UNLV, he returned and is a successful CPA here.
Most of the area sports fans believe in Mumme. They know he was able to win at Kentucky, in the SEC, and they think he can do the same here, in the WAC.
"The Aggies are improving, and with all the throwing, they're fun to watch," Beasley says. "I think people like his attitude. He and his wife are visible. Before it seemed like the Aggies played dead.
"You've got Reggie Theus coaching basketball and Hal Mumme coaching football. That's a good start."