In 2020, when the state was facing a $2 billion budget deficit and all but two games on the NMSU scheduled were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote my second column calling for the Aggies to drop down to the FCS division in football.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like college football or appreciate the potential benefits that come with the national exposure it brings. I was just tired of all the losing and the empty seats and the games that were over by halftime. The 1-1 mark in 2020, earned against opponents Tarleton State and Dixie State, was the first time in 18 years that the Aggies didn’t finish with a losing record.
That column was also written during the third of what would be six seasons of NMSU wandering in the college football wasteland without a conference home. That meant we were either playing teams like Tarleton State that nobody has ever heard of, or we were cashing big paychecks to get trounced by Georgia and Alabama.
NMSU was the toughest nut in the college football world to crack, and all of the other coaches knew it.
Kill was undaunted. He led NMSU to a 7-6 record and bowl victory last year in a year with a schedule that included Missouri, Wisconsin and Minnesota. This year the Aggies posted their first 10-win season since 1960, making it to the championship game in their first year of play in Conference USA.
Liberty University, awash in Falwell money, defeated the Aggies in the title game to maintain an undefeated season. But, NMSU put on a heck of a show for the national TV audience, scoring 35 points in the loss.
The Aggies will look for their second consecutive bowl victory in a couple of weeks when they play Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl.
I would be lying if I claimed to know why Kill has succeeded when so many before him failed. The best I can come up with is to harken back to those dark days of 2020 when a nation of shut-ins was introduced to a fictional football coach named Ted Lasso. Beyond the constant stream of one-liners was a relentlessly optimistic message about the power of believing in yourself.
Kill followed last year’s bowl win by getting an Aggie tattoo. And it’s not some small little thing on his ankle that can be covered with a sock. It’s big and bold, right on the shoulder.
I don’t know what, if anything, that means for his future commitment to the program. It will soon be that time of year when losing coaches get fired and winning coaches get offers of obscene amounts of money to lure them away. Kill will undoubtedly be high on the list of many wealthier universities.
And, I don’t know if success for the Aggies is sustainable in an era when the rules of college sports are changing to favor the bigger programs who can bring players in through the transfer portal and set them up with lucrative advertising deals.
All of those are issues for another day. For now … Go Aggies, beat the Bulldogs.
One final note. Richard Coltharp has played a critical role in helping to inform our community for more than 20 years. I offer my thanks, and am glad he will be staying in Las Cruces.
Walter Rubel can be reached at email@example.com.
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