By Daniel Libit
How tenuous are things around Lobo football? It seems we may have already crossed the messenger-shooting Rubicon of the Bob Davie reign weeks ago.
Earlier this month, the University of New Mexico’s top athletic spokesman, Frank Mercogliano, fired off a chastising email to an Albuquerque Journal reporter, in which he argued that the “very poor” use of a Davie quote in a story about UNM football home attendance was “hurtful to Coach Davie’s reputation.” However, both those contentions should probably be examined further.
To review: Davie was suspended for a month prior to the season, following multiple university investigations into allegations of racial insensitivity, player mistreatment and improper handling of sexual assault claims. (Davie has denied all those allegations.) As NMFishbowl.com previously noted, Davie is also reputed to have been caught up in — or at the center of — legal and ethical controversies while on staff at Notre Dame, Tulane and Arizona.
Nevertheless, in an email on Nov. 10, Mercogliano was compelled to throw the gauntlet of Davie’s going reputation at the feet of Journal higher education reporter Jessica Dyer, who authored a story that day headlined, “UNM Football Ticket Sales Trending Below Target.”
NMFishbowl.com obtained Mercogliano’s exchange through a recent public records request, which sought communications between the top UNM sports mouthpiece and local Albuquerque media during the bleak culmination of the 2018 Lobo football campaign. For the second consecutive year, New Mexico finished 3-9 and Davie’s future as head coach now appears uncertain, even though the cash-strapped Lobos are contractually obligated to pay him a $1.3 million buyout if he’s terminated before next season.
In her story about UNM’s declining football ticket sales, Dyer referenced a comment made by Davie about the crowd at UNM’s previous home contest against San Diego State. That affair, a 31-23 Lobo defeat televised nationally on ESPNU, was initially in doubt because of issues with the lights. Once Dreamstyle Stadium was illuminated, it hosted an announced attendance of 14,646, its smallest home crowd to date.
“Head coach Bob Davie quipped after the last game, against San Diego State, that the number of fans who showed up could have been accommodated ‘on a couple of bleachers,'” Dyer wrote.
In a censorious retort, Mercogliano accused Dyer of using the quote “completely out of context from the subject,” adding, “You made it seem like he was complaining about the crowd, and that’s not even remotely what was said.”
Where to begin, where to begin?
First, here is a precise excerpt of what Davie said after the game against Rocky Long’s SDSU Aztecs, with interjections and faux pas included, and the relevant part bolded for emphasis:
“I’m just glad the lights came on, you know. I’m serious, you know. We get to the stadium two hours before the game and there’s no lights on in the stadium. Um, so, I’m just glad we had lights to play the game. You know, Rocky and I were talking about maybe going over to Milner [sic] Stadium and playing. And, uh, you know we’re just gonna play it out here on the grass, put some bleachers out there for the people that were here, probably coulda got them out there on a couple bleachers. So, I’m just glad we got the lights on, you know?”
Lest you don’t trust my transcribing, here is a YouTube clip of Davie’s press conference, cued up to the point where he utters the aforewritten:
Putting aside, for a moment, the fact that the Lobos’ seventh-year coach butchered the name of Albuquerque’s Milne Stadium (there’s no “r”) — something the Journal didn’t call attention to — how exactly could Davie not be presumed to have referenced the game’s tiny audience when he said he “probably coulda got them out there on a couple bleachers”?
Couple bleachers: Do I need to make an IPRA request for the dimensions of each metal bleacher at Dreamstyle Stadium, or can fair-minded people agree that there’s not more than a few hundred fans that would comfortably fit?
Now, without some sodium pentathol and an fMRI machine, we’ll never know for certain what Davie meant, but then neither will Mercogliano, who went on to accuse Dyer of blindly restating a tweet I had previously penned about Davie’s crowd comment.
At end of post-game presser, @UNMLoboFB Bob Davie comments on crowd last night, which was officially tallied at 14K-plus: “Probably coulda gotten them out there on a couple bleachers.” https://t.co/Vxa9wZNvWs
— NMFishbowl.com (@nmfishbowlcom) November 4, 2018
“I know that Daniel Libit pulled this exact quote on a Twitter [sic],” Mercogliano groused, “and while I expect that from him, I certainly expect better out of both you and the Journal when it comes to printing something like this.” (In the past, Mercogliano has tended to avoid addressing me by name, at least when writing publicly.)
Mercogliano went on: “I have to ask…did you listen to this directly or did you just take it from Daniel’s tweet, which also took this quote out of context?”
In response, Dyer wrote: “Yes, I have listened to the audio. My story did not say Davie ‘complained’ about attendance, but he did remark that fans who were there could’ve been accommodated on a ‘couple’ of bleachers had they played elsewhere.”
Still, Mercogliano persisted: “I think it’s piling on to pile on, and in that light, you accomplished the goal it seems.”
Speaking of context, this would seem like a rather puny hill for a Davie defender to die on. Even stranger, considering how accommodating the Journal’s regular beat coverage of Davie has been all season long — and the season before.
Thanks for nothing, right?
But the Journal isn’t entirely alone when it came to Mercogliano’s backdoor bristling over the recent media coverage of Lobo fan absenteeism.
On Nov. 1, KOB-TV reporter Patrick Hayes wrote Mercogliano to express his interest “in doing a story about how attendance is calculated at football games too. Is there any kind of breakdown —tickets sold, donated?”
Mercogliano replied as follows: “This story has been done…poorly I may add, by KRQE [News 13] months ago. We calculate our attendance exactly as the NCAA does, and pretty much every Division I FBS institution. Tickets that are sold or out (in the case of students).”
Dyer declined to comment about her exchange with Mercogliano over the Davie “bleacher” quote. In an email Wednesday, Mercogliano likewise declined to elaborate, saying it was “between myself and Jessica.” The fine print beneath Mercogliano’s signature line contained this cautionary boilerplate:
“All emails sent to me are subject to IPRA and FOIA, and may be released by The University of New Mexico Public Records Custodian to any media member or member of the general public. No email sent to me should be considered confidential in any way, shape or form.”
Featured Image by Sara MacNeil / NMFishbowl.com