New Mexico's winningest coach Long steps down

After 11 seasons, Rocky Long, the winningest coach in University of New Mexico football, has decided to step down, effective immediately.

"I want this program to be on top," the former Lobo quarterback said on Monday. "I wanted it be on top as a player. I wanted it be on top as an assistant coach. And I wanted it to be on top as the head coach.

"I don't see it happening with me as the head coach."

The most successful coach in New Mexico history, the straight-talking Long said he took a hard look at the success the Lobos have achieved during his term but concluded they can't compete for a conference title if he sticks around.

"I'm a realist," Long said.

During a crowded evening news conference, Long said he believes this year's team should have been much better and that the coaching staff -- including himself -- did a "terrible job."

"In 2005, we did a terrible job of coaching and this year we did a terrible job of coaching," he said. "Other than that, I think our staff, our players have been overachievers every other year."

Long, 58, finishes his career 65-69, including a 4-8 mark this season. New Mexico has been to five bowl games in the past seven seasons, including each of the past two seasons.

"Coach Long's decision to step down was unexpected," New Mexico vice president for athletics Paul Krebs said. "We can't say enough about the accomplishments and contributions that Rocky has made to the University of New Mexico. He is arguably the most successful coach in the history of Lobo football. Because of Rocky's passion and devotion to his alma mater, the program has been elevated and we are optimistic about the future."

Prior to making five bowl appearances from 2002-07, New Mexico had been to just six bowls from 1938-2001. Long led New Mexico to a win in the 2007 New Mexico Bowl, the school's first bowl win since 1961.

New Mexico's six Mountain West Conference losses this year are the most for the program since 1998 when it finished 3-9 overall and 1-7 in the WAC.

Long, who started at quarterback for New Mexico from 1969-71, said he appreciated the support of the loyal fans and the athletics department for helping the program get better during his 11 seasons as coach.

"For as long as people talk about Lobos football, they'll talk about Rocky Long, because for as long as we've been playing football at UNM, no coach has been more of a winner than Rocky, and his winning relationship with UNM goes back almost 40 years now," New Mexico president David Schmidly said.

Long always emphasized to his teams that they couldn't give up. His players exhibited toughness and resilience and kept running hard, even into the fourth quarter when they were behind.

Fittingly, Long was reluctant to say he was quitting.

"I don't think I'm giving up," Long said. "I'm giving the program the chance to get better."

He said the players' talent, the support of the administration and the Lobos' training facilities are ideal but he determined over the last three or four weeks that he simply wasn't the right person to lead the team to the next level.

Even the money is right for a mid-major school like New Mexico. Before this season, Long signed a five-year contract that raised his base salary to $750,000 per year with incentives that could have boosted it to $1 million.

But for the Lobos to take the next step, winning a league title and perhaps making a run for the Bowl Championship Series, Long said New Mexico needs a flashier recruiter to keep up with conference powers Utah, BYU and TCU.

"I don't have the right image. I'm an old player that loves to coach," said Long, who was a three-year starter at quarterback for New Mexico from 1969-71. "I'm not trying to be on ESPN."

Long also blasted New Mexico's fan support.

He thanked "loyal fans" for their enduring support and fawned over Albuquerque's high quality of life. Then he became angry, saying casual fans need to get involved and show more passion for the Lobos.

"If you want to compete with the big boys, you've got to act like it," Long said.

Long wouldn't characterize his decision as a retirement, saying he hopes to coach again as a defensive coordinator. He worked in that capacity at UCLA and Oregon State before coming to New Mexico and is very highly regarded.

"It's a lot more fun being a coordinator. You're in charge but nobody knows it," Long said to laughter.

Graham Watson covers college football for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.