Rocky Long’s Tenure As Head Coach At SDSU (or was he really that good? Hint, yes. Yes, he was).

Posted: May 12, 2020 in Uncategorized
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Candidly, Rocky ranks with Don Coryell.  He was better than Claude Gilbert.  Rocky’s nine years at San Diego State produced an overall record of 81 – 38 (.681) and MWC record of 51 – 20 (.718).  None of his Aztec teams finished with an overall .500 record or losing record.  Only once in MWC play was .500 the result (4 – 4 during 2018).  He won 10 games twice (2017 and 2019).  He won 11 games twice (2015 and 2016).  Over a three year period, his Aztec teams posted a total of 32 wins.  Not bad for a head coach with the soul of a defensive coordinator.

Bowl game appearances became the norm rather than the exception during Rocky’s tenure at San Diego State.  Nine seasons produced nine bowls.  Sure some games were as disappointing as a pair of socks on Christmas morning.  Other games (the wins) were built for Aztecs fans’ memories:  Stomping Buffalo on a frigid night in Boise (49 – 24); ruining Cincinnati’s Hawaiian vacation (42 – 7); my personal favorite was the complete dismantling of Houston (34 -10.  In my not so humble opinion the best Aztec effort on both sides of the ball . . . ever) and the good-bye, Rocky game against Central Michigan (48 – 11).

Let’s dive a bit deeper.

Rocky’s defenses gave away a season average of 30+ points once (31.7 in 2013).  2011’s defense was the next “worse”:  25.8 points allowed per game.  Two teams (2016 and 2017) allowed an identical 20.2.  His best defenses were 2014 (19.8), 2015 (16.4) and an absolutely crushing 12.7 in 2019.  His speciality was stuffing the run.  Opponents averaged barely 72 rushing yards per game in 2019.  Consider, that total is shy of 3/4s of a football field.  2018’s defense allowed 94.5 rushing yards per game (still a tad shy of an entire field and definitely end-zone free).  The SDSU defenses from 2015 – 2017 allowed 111.2, 111.9 and 110.4 rushing yards per game respectively.  From 2015 to 2019, Aztec rushing defense was rated in the top 5 for three years (2015, 2018, 2019), top 10 for one year (2017) and 11th overall in 2016.

During Rocky’s nine years, the offense wasn’t reminiscent of past glory (Coryell and Gilbert), but the Aztecs put the ball in the end zone and between the uprights often enough to generate those win percentages of .681 and .718.  Plus, we watched the impressive skill sets of Ronnie Hillman, Donnel Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny running this way and that way, over, under and through to great effect.  Speaking of those fine running backs (and not mentioned other running backs, quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends), 7 of Rocky’s 9 years featured offenses that scored between 25 points and 35 points.  Sure his final two years I dare not use the word “featured” to describe the Aztec offense.  Rather, “cringe worthy”, “red zone reluctant” and “pathetic” best portray the SDSU offensive efforts of 2018 and 2019.  Then again, who is perfect?

Rocky’s worst finish in MWC play was his first year (2011) as head coach, a seemingly unpromising 4th.  None of his Aztec teams finished 4th again.  Rocky’s teams finished first or tied for first five seasons including consecutive MWC championships in 2015 and 2016.  SDSU finished second in 2013 and 2017.  Third once in 2018.

Finally, his head coaching efforts against the infamous power-5 resulted in an overall record of 6-9.  His 2011 squad knocked off Washington State in 2011, then promptly lost the next eight non-conference games against p-5 schools.  However, from 2016 to 2019, his Aztec teams went 5-1 against the big boys.  PAC-12 games, always of note given our California residency, resulted in a 6-5 record which included the aforementioned run of 5-1.

The days of his souring media demeanor as the season progressed will be missed.  By mid-October, his press conferences (pre or post) featured a man who would rather be in his dentist’s chair than speaking to a writer from any media outlet.  His perpetual folded arms while roaming the sidelines represented a coach who simply wanted the last two minutes of the game to grind out another victory.  His back turned to all things offense during timeouts was the sign of extreme confidence in not only his offensive coordinator, but also his entire offensive coaching staff.  Much like a man lost in a kitchen who loves to eat.

Rocky Long returns to the University of New Mexico in 2020.  How long he stays, who knows?  He can always come back to the beach and offer an idea or two.

 

 

 

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