One Aggie Fan’s Observation and Perspective on the Decline and Rebound of NMSU Football (Part 1)

Although the enthusiasm and visible support of our town in the past few years for the NMSU football program leaves much to be desired, we are nonetheless a college town with loyal, committed fans who love the Aggies. The rollercoaster ride that the program has been on in the past decades could be the reason for the decline in performance and wins, support, attendance and the enthusiasm of fans and recruits alike. This is my attempt to break down each coach’s era and their success.

It has been 45 seasons since Coach Warren Woodson was forced to retire by the NMSU administration despite going 7-2-1 in final season. Woodson’s final game as the Aggie coach was in Albuquerque against the rival UNM Lobos. Time out was called with 6 seconds remaining in the game so the Aggies could score another touchdown. They did and won the game 54-7. In Woodson’s ten years, he guided the Aggies to seven winning seasons, two bowl victories and an overall record of 63-36-3. His 1960 Aggies went 11-0 and received national rankings. Since the abrupt and controversial dismissal of Coach Woodson by the NMSU administration, the Aggie football program has not experienced the consistent success like they did during the Woodson tenure. This has prompted Aggie fans to call this lack of success “The Woodson Curse.”

Jim Wood Era (23-30-1)


In the search for a new coach, the University chose Jim Wood, an assistant under Coach Woodson who had no prior Division 1 head coaching experience.

I enrolled at NMSU in August, 1971 as an 18 year-old freshman from Salt Lake City, Utah. I started attending New Mexico State football games in 1971. That year the Aggies went 5-5-1. Joe Pisarcik was a sophomore quarterback and Ron “Po” James was senior running back. Po James played in the NFL for seven years with the Philadelphia Eagles following his 1971 season. Pisarcik, nicknamed “Solano Joe” by the Sun-News sports editor Joe Muench.

My first Aggie-Lobo game was also my most memorable game. It was a Saturday evening kickoff in Albuquerque in September. When I woke up that morning there were no plans to go to the game. Three friends and I were discussing the game and then decided to go to Albuquerque. None of us had a vehicle so we decided to hitchhike to Albuquerque. We all made it to Los Lunas and went to one of our friend’s sister’s home. Needless to say, she was surprised to have four college students sleeping at her home. The sister took the four of us to University stadium where we bought tickets and watched an exciting game. The game was tied at 35. The Aggies had the ball and were driving for a winning score. There was about 11 seconds left with the ball in the middle of the field. Instead of having Po James run up the middle, Wood called a run to the right. Po was tackled and the ball put on the right hash mark. The Aggies had a “straight on” field goal kick from the far hash mark. Time out called with 3 seconds remaining. The ball snapped, good hold, kick wide and the game ended in a 35-35 tie. After the game Wood was quoted in the Albuquerque Journal saying that he thought more time was left on the clock. A chance for a winning season negated by not knowing how much time left in the game! The four of us walked most of South Broadway before the sister picked us up. The next day, Sunday, we were all successful in hitchhiking back to Las Cruces.

The 1972 season was terrible with a 2-9 record. No one could replace Po James, so the Aggies were relying on Joe Pisarcik’s passing. Solano Joe often threw into tight coverage. He was fond of saying, “The defensive backs and safeties can’t catch the ball otherwise they would be receivers.” This was Coach Wood’s final year as coach of the Aggies.

Jim Bradley Era (23-31-1)


Athletic Director Lou Henson, School President Gerald Thomas, and the Board of Regents hired former New Mexico State football player and Mayfield High School Coach, Jim Bradley, as the next head coach. The 1973 season was an improvement over the 1972 season when their record was 2-9. In Bradley’s first year the Aggies went 5-6. Joe Pisarcik was a senior; Jim Germany, a tight end on the roster, was given the opportunity to play running back and was very successful. Coach Bradley brought his brand of discipline to the football team which was a factor in the improvement from 1972.

The 1974 season showed tremendous promise. This team is probably the most talented Aggie football team since the Woodson era. I don’t think we have had the depth of talent since then. The quarterback was senior Bill Bowerman, running back Jim Germany, Wide Receiver Duriel Harris, are just some of the players that come to mind. Duriel Harris played with the Miami Dolphins as a wide receiver. He played in that memorable game in 1981 Dolphins vs. Chargers as Harris caught a hook pass and lateral to a running back. Jim Germany played for the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League. Jim was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, but broke his ankle during tryouts. He went to Edmonton and was one of the best running backs in Eskimo and CFL history. There may be others from the 1974 team that also played professional football in the NFL, CFL or the World Football League.

The Aggies started the 1974 season 4-0. We then went 1-2 and were 5-2 going into the Homecoming game. NMSU was now in the Missouri Valley Conference and had a conference home afternoon game with the Drake Bulldogs. It was late October and a near sellout crowd at Aggie Memorial Stadium. The game started with Drake scoring three touchdowns in the first quarter and had a 21-0 lead. The Aggie offense woke up in the second quarter as Germany was getting large yardage. The Aggies scored 21 points in the second quarter to tie the game going into halftime 21-21 tie.

Both teams made defensive adjustments but Germany was still getting yards for the Aggies. Near the end of the 3rd quarter, NMSU scored a touchdown, made the PAT, and took the lead 28-21. Both teams traded possessions and with about 6 minutes remaining Drake scores a touchdown. Drake elected to go for two points and the conversion was successful taking a 29-28 lead. The Aggies had to punt on their next possession. Drake also had to punt, but there was less than a minute remaining on the clock. The Aggies had the final possession. They worked the ball to the 50 yard line. There were about seven seconds remaining. Bill Bowerman throws the ball deep down the sideline and it’s caught by Duriel Harris at the 1 yard line, but he was still in bounds. The clock was stopped to reset the down marker. The Aggies had no timeouts. There was enough time for a quick snap. Jim Germany had rushed for 228 yards at that point. The conventional thinking would be to give it to him to get the last yard. Instead, the field goal unit comes on to the field. It was total confusion! The ball does not get snapped as time has run out and on top of that there were 13 players on the field. The end result of the game saw Drake victorious 29-28.

This game has bothered me since 1974. Not only was this game the turning point for the 1974 season, I believe this began the demise of Aggie football. We were 5-3 and finished the year 5-6. We again played UNM in Albuquerque and lost in a heartbreaker. The Aggies were ahead 23-21 and the Lobos kicked the winning field goal on the final play. A 5-6 season could have easily been an 8-3 season.

The 1977 season was the final season for Head Coach Jim Bradley. There was a growing discontent about the continued losing seasons and the inability for the Aggies to beat the Lobos. The Aggies finished the year with a 4-7 record. They lost the last four games of the season to UNM 35-13 in Las Cruces, North Texas 45-17, Tulsa 27-24 and the season finale losing to Idaho 47-44 in Las Cruces. Shortly after the Idaho game, Jim Bradley’s contract as head coach was not renewed by Athletic Director Keith Colson. Bradley’s five year record was 23-31-1 and 1-4 against UNM. Bradley asked to coach the 1978 season in the NEW Aggie Memorial Stadium. He felt that he could not only have a winning season and beat the Lobos, but he could also recruit players with the new stadium. Colson decided it would be best opening the 1978 season with a new stadium and a new coach.

Gil Krueger Era (17-31-1)


New Mexico State selected Gil Krueger from Northern Michigan University, a Division II school located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Krueger was successful at Northern Michigan winning the Division II National Championship in 1975. The thought was that he could continue his winning ways at New Mexico State.

The Aggies opened the 1978 season against the UTEP Miners. The event was a near sellout, commemorated with special coins that were given to the 32,000 that were in attendance at Aggie Memorial Stadium. The Aggies won the game 35-32. They took the lead early, controlled the tempo, but hung on to win by only three points. The Aggies had a winning season going 6-5 and even won the Missouri Valley Conference. This was the first winning season since 1967. Little did anyone know the next winning season would be fourteen years and three coaches later.

The 1979 season was a losing one going 2-9 in Krueger’s second year at New Mexico State. The Aggies opened the 1979 season with a 23-13 win over Wichita State in Las Cruces. The following week the Aggies lost to Drake, 14-13 in Des Moines, Iowa. The third game of the year was a 14-13 victory over UTEP in El Paso. After 3 games, NMSU had a 2-1 record. The Aggies went on an 8-game losing streak including a 30-16 loss to UNM in Las Cruces and a 57-0 drubbing by Nebraska. This was the first money game on the Aggie schedule. There were many other money games scheduled over the next 30 years.

In 1980 the Aggies went 3-7-1 losing in Albuquerque to the Lobos 52-19, and a 14-14 tie with Wichita State. 1981 was not any better with a 3-8 record including a 17-13 heartbreaker to UNM. 1982 was another 3-8 season with UNM whipping the Aggies 66-14. This was Gil Krueger’s final season as Head Coach.

Fred Zechman Era (8-25)


The New Mexico State Administration made a financial decision that still haunts the football program. It was decided to hire a head coach that would coach for less money than Gil Krueger. Needless to say, the coaching pool was not very large with coaches and New Mexico State interviewed coaches with no head coaching experience. The powers to be were hoping for a “diamond in the rough” and this did not occur. Fred Zechman, an assistant coach at the Ohio State University, was selected as the new head coach at New Mexico State.

Going into the 1983 season, New Mexico State had a first year head coach with no apparent substantial coaching at the college level. Despite this apparent lack of head coaching, the Aggies went 5-6 including a 24-17 victory over Iowa State in Ames, Iowa. Maybe some of his Ohio State experience rubbed off on Coach Zechman. This was the highlight of his three seasons at NMSU. In 1984 under Zechman, the Aggies went 2-9 and 1-10 in 1985. Fred Zechmann was released following the 1985 season.

Mike Knoll Era (4-40)


Mike Knoll came to Las Cruces from “the U”, University of Miami. He was a defensive coach under Jimmy Johnson. He brought the U’s cocky, arrogant attitude with him. Knoll stated he would do what his predecessors could not, win at New Mexico State. His bravado quickly changed as Coach Knoll found out how uncompetitive the Aggie teams have become playing Division I football. The recruiting budget was shrinking every year. The Athletic Administration had major deficits that needed to be addressed and football was taking a big financial hit. Due to these budget restraints, more New Mexico high school football players were recruited and offered scholarships. In fact, the 1989 season had 65% of the football roster from New Mexico high schools. As we all know, there is no comparison between high school football and college Division I football.

The Knoll era went 1-10 in 1986, losing to UNM 45-14 in Albuquerque. In 1987, the Aggies went 2-9 including a 17-14 win over UNM in Las Cruces and a 32-13 win over McNeese State, Division II. In 1988 the 1-10 Aggies did manage a victory over Kansas 42-29 in Lawrence, Kansas. This was Knoll’s last victory as NMSU head coach. The Aggies lost the remaining six games in 1988 and all 11 games in 1989. The closest game was a 29-27 loss to UTEP in Las Cruces. Prior to the 1989 season, Compliance attorney Christina Chavez, spoke to the Albuquerque Chapter of the Aggie Sports Association. In her talk, to emphasize the financial plight of the football program, she held up a shoe lace and said this is what Coach Knoll has to work with–a shoe lace budget. It’s no wonder why they were entering the next decade with a 0-17 record. Coach Knoll was let go following the 1989 season.

The Aggies started their decline in the mid 1970s as each new coach won fewer games than the previous one. They finished the decade of the 80s with a 27-game losing streak. Because football is a game of numbers – yardage, stats, probability of what the opponent is going to do, and the odd of coaches keeping their jobs – strong consideration was given to drop Aggie football program following Knoll’s dismissal. After much debate the University felt that rather than dropping the program it would be more beneficial to save it for a variety of reasons including that it is a form of entertainment for the students and a strong form of recruitment. This, however, isn’t where my observation ends; in the next edition of the magazine we’ll discuss the rebound of Aggie football from the 1990s to the mid 2000s as we continue with part II of this article.

Summer 2014

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