SAN DIEGO – Rocky Long had a chance to follow Brady Hoke to Michigan. Instead, he stayed at San Diego State and was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach.
"This is a much better deal," Long said during his introductory news conference Wednesday. "And I'm not talking about anything about being a head coach. We've got things started here. They've got a lot of work to do there."
The two schools will find out for sure when San Diego State visits Michigan on Sept. 24.
Long's promotion came a day after Hoke was hired away by Michigan to replace the fired Rich Rodriguez.
Long inherits a team that enjoyed a quick turnaround under Hoke. The Aztecs were 9-4 in 2010, including a victory against Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl. It was SDSU's first winning season and bowl berth since 1998. Hoke was 13-12 in two seasons.
Long, SDSU's third head coach since 2008, will get a five-year contract paying $800,000 per season.
"You see my hair? This is not a steppingstone for me, I'll promise you that," the graying Long said when asked how long he plans to stick around. "If I'm honest with myself, which I usually am, this is going to be my last coaching job. I hope it lasts 10, 15, 20 years."
Long joined Hoke's staff in December 2008, weeks after he resigned following 11 seasons as New Mexico's head coach. He essentially fired himself at New Mexico, stepping away because he was frustrated after a 4-8 season and felt it was better to let someone else try.
But Long became re-energized about being a head coach during his first year on Hoke's staff.
"I have a theory about head coaches. They have a disease, and it becomes part of your personality," Long said. "Once you've been one, you always want to be one. It's when bad things happen to you that you go, 'What the heck am I doing this for?' And as soon as the bad things slip away, you go, 'Golly, I wish I could be a head coach again.'"
Long, a three-year starter at quarterback for the Lobos from 1969-71, compiled a 65-69 record as head coach and led New Mexico to five bowl appearances in his final seven seasons. In 2007, his team broke the school's 46-year drought without a bowl victory, beating Nevada 23-0 in the New Mexico Bowl.
Long also was defensive coordinator at UCLA, Oregon State and Wyoming.
SDSU has played a 3-3-5 defense under Long. He said he has a few people in mind as candidates to become defensive coordinator. If he can't get one of them, he'll continue to run the defense. He'll also have to hire an offensive coordinator, because Al Borges went with Hoke.
Long said people shouldn't be mad at Hoke for leaving because he'd always said Michigan was his dream job.
"In fact, I'm glad he's gone because I'm standing up here," Long cracked.
Athletic director Jim Sterk said he approached Long during bowl practices and asked if he'd be interested in the job if Hoke were to leave. Hoke had been approached by Minnesota during the season about its head coaching vacancy.
Sterk said neither Minnesota nor Michigan gave him a courtesy call about talking to Hoke. "It's not great for the business, no," Sterk said.
Hoke had agreed in early December to have his original five-year contract extended by two years and receive a bump in pay, along with his assistants. However, he hadn't signed it by the time he left for Michigan because some details were still being worked out.
Sterk said Michigan must pay a $1 million buyout.
"I'm thankful for what Brady did, but I'm not happy it happened," Sterk said about the departure. "Yeah, it's fine for Brady. I can tell you, because of who's standing next to me, when I met with him two days ago, I became more and more excited, if there was a change, and that's where I am today. I'm very excited to have Rocky Long as our head coach, not only to continue the momentum and the building, but I think to elevate that. I think he can do that."
Long said Hoke did an "amazing" job in getting the once sad-sack program headed in the right direction.
"There's a long way to go before we're going to be considered a great program," he said. "But everything is in place here that we can be a great program."
Quarterback Ryan Lindley, who'll be a senior, said he was glad Sterk moved quickly.
"We're excited and we're all for the hire and what's going on, and we're just ready to go to work," Lindley said.