Rocky Long, Jim McElwain and a Mountain West Conference reunion in New Mexico Bowl
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Rocky Long is quite familiar with Jim McElwain.
Before McElwain was at Florida from 2015-17 and a Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year at Central Michigan in 2019, the 57-year-old got his head coaching start in the Mountain West Conference.
Five years later, McElwain has a chance to take down one of the Mountain West's finest coaches at 2 p.m. Saturday in the New Mexico Bowl at Dreamstyle Stadium in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Coaching Colorado State from 2012-14, McElwain faced San Diego State, led by Long, just once. The result was a 38-14 loss on Oct. 13, 2012, at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
The defeat sent the Rams to 1-6 overall, and it marked McElwain's sixth-straight loss. Despite posting 335 yards, Colorado State turned the ball over three times and had five penalties for 61 yards.
Top running back Chris Nwoke was held to 59 yards on 20 carries.
"Rocky Long is one of the best defensive coaches out there," McElwain said. "People try to replicate what he does."
Meanwhile, the Aztecs were led offensively by running back Adam Muema's 14 carries for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
San Diego State quarterback Ryan Katz completed 16 of 22 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns without an interception along with 20 yards and one score on eight carries.
McElwain remains thoroughly impressed by Long's abilities as the ninth-year coach of the Aztecs.
"Defensively, this guy Rocky builds sink and bear out of every known way to do it," he said. "We've got our work cut out for us on offense."
Long played at New Mexico as a quarterback from 1969-71, earning consecutive winning seasons and Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors in 1971.
Shortly following his professional career with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League (1972-73, 1975-76) and Detroit Wheels of the World Football League (1974), Long got his start as an assistant coach at Eldorado High School in New Mexico.
He made the jump to college coaching in 1978, serving as a quarterbacks coach (1978) and defensive backs coach (1979-80) for the Lobos, defensive coordinator at Wyoming (1981-85) and linebackers coach with the BC Lions (1986-87).
Long made yet another leap in 1988 as the defensive backs coach for TCU, a position he held until 1990. He transitioned to the Power Five as the defensive coordinator at Oregon State (1991-95) and UCLA (1996-97) before he was hired as the head coach at New Mexico from 1998-2008.
Making the move to San Diego State in 2009 as a two-year defensive coordinator, Long eventually took over as head coach in 2011 and has been with the program in that capacity ever since.
From Long's time in the Mountain West, he grew accustomed to McElwain's name.
While the two coaches never got deep into conversation, they were definitely aware of one another.
"We've been in head coaches meetings together," Long said, "but it's nothing more than we know each other."
McElwain was a quarterback at Eastern Washington from 1980-83 before starting his coaching career. After stints as an assistant at various programs from 1985-2011, he got his break as Colorado State's head coach.
Since then, McElwain has been the head coach at Florida from 2015-17, wide receivers coach at Michigan in 2018 and now the leader of the Chippewas.
McElwain is a two-time SEC Eastern Division champion (2015-16) and MAC West Division title winner in 2019. He's been named Coach of the Year in the Mountain West (2014), SEC (2015) and MAC (2019).
The first-year Central Michigan coach took the program from a 1-11 record in 2018 to 8-5 in 2019.
"He's always been successful," Long said. "He's a great football coach, and what he's done there is amazing from what year to the next."
Seven years after the matchup in San Diego between McElwain's Rams and Long's Aztecs, the coaches get a second clash at Dreamstyle Stadium in Albuquerque.
McElwain's matchup against Long in the New Mexico Bowl is a true Mountain West reunion.
"His team's going to be ready to play," Long said. "We always look forward to a challenge."