By Dave Wagner
Eastern New Mexico University’s Bud Elliott, coming to the end of a coaching career this week that dates to the early 1950s, admits to mixed feelings about his impending retirement.
“After 48 years, I don’t know why I wouldn’t (feel that way),” he said. “It’s been my life, and it’s hard to let it go.”
ENMU’s football coach for the past 11 seasons, the 72-year-old Elliott will retire after Saturday’s 1 p.m. season finale against Western New Mexico at Greyhound Stadium.
Except for a four-year period in the mid-1980s when he was in private business, Elliott has been a college head coach since 1964. He won his 200th college game early this season and is 204-179-9 overall, including 67-49-2 at ENMU, where he is the school’s winningest coach.
He began his coaching career in 1953, spending 11 years as a head coach in Kansas high schools.
The Greyhounds (5-5) hope to avoid their second consecutive season-ending, three-game losing streak when they take on the Mustangs (2-7), who have lost five in a row. ENMU is also looking for its seventh winning season in a row, and ninth in Elliott’s 11 years.
Elliott said he worries about a letdown after last week’s 34-20 Lone Star Conference South Division loss at Midwestern State, but it’s hard to imagine one given the circumstances.
“I really want us to play well,” he said. “I was so disappointed with the second half this last ballgame. We blew an opportunity to be tied for first place (with Texas A&M-Kingsville) in the Lone Star South.
“At the same time, we got beat by a pretty good football team.”
The Hounds and Mustangs did not play last year for the first time since 1989, but Eastern hasn’t loss to WNMU since Elliott came to the school in 1994 (9-0).
“This Western New Mexico team coming in here is better than we’ve seen for some time,” he said. “We need to come out with our ‘A’ game.
“We need to go out with a winning record. Our seniors deserve that.”
The Mustangs lost to Fort Lewis 20-17 in overtime last week — their third OT loss in a row against the Skyhawks. Veteran WNMU coach Charley Wade said the program’s status as a football independent forces Western to do a lot of traveling.
“It’s absolutely miserable,” he said. “Last spring, we had a schedule with six home games and five away, and we ended up with three home and seven away. It’s been really, really hard on the program.
“This is a big game, and our guys will play hard. I’ve known coach Elliott since 1972; I think he’s a tremendous coach, and they’ve built a nice program at Eastern.”
Western opened the season with a 23-20 win in four overtimes at LSC South member Angelo State, but since then not much has gone right for the Mustangs. Their only other win was at Mesa State (49-24) in late September.
Elliott said while the Mustangs may resort to some trick plays on offense, the team’s strength is a defense led by 6-foot-3, 255-pound senior middle linebacker Valentine Chude.
“He makes a lot of plays,” Elliott said. “Offensively, they’ve had their difficulties, but Charley Wade is the kind of football coach that if you don’t stay (alert) he’ll do something to screw you up.”
Western New Mexico at ENMU
1 p.m. Saturday
At Blackwater Draw
Radio: KSEL-FM 95.3
Records: WNMU 2-7, ENMU 5-5.
Coaches: WNMU, Charley Wade, 5th year; ENMU, Bud Elliott, 11th year.
Last week: The Mustangs lost in overtime to Fort Lewis 20-17 at home. The Greyhounds were beaten by Midwestern State 34-20 at Wichita Falls, Texas.
Last meeting: 2002, the Hounds edged Western 27-20 in the season opener for both teams at Blackwater Draw.
WNMU players to watch: Bruce Blue, Sr. DE, 6-3, 260; Valentine Chude, Jr. LB, 6-3, 255; Samson Jagoras, Sr. LB, 6-0, 245; Joseph Kellogg, Sr. SS, 6-2, 220; Hurtis Chinn, Sr. WR, 5-8, 190.
Of note: Last week’s setback was Western’s third consecutive overtime loss against Fort Lewis. The Skyhawks blocked two Kevin Hughes field goals in the game, including one in overtime. … The Hounds lead the all-time series against WNMU 30-8, including 9-0 under Elliott. The Mustangs’ last win in the series was in 1993 (37-7), the year before Elliott took over. … Since a season-opening, 23-20 win in four overtimes over Angelo State at San Angelo, Texas, the Mustangs have lost seven of eight, including the last five. … WNMU plays an independent schedule after dropping out of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference several years back, leading to some long road trips. Six of its first seven games were on the road, including outings to Winona, Minn., and Bolivar, Mo.
Quotable: “I have the utmost respect for him. I think he’s had an outstanding career. He’s made an impact on a lot of young people’s lives.” — WNMU coach Charley Wade, on Elliott.