Las Vegas • Twice a coach at New Mexico and frequently across the sideline from Mountain West opponents, Matt Wells is quite familiar with his new conference.
So too is it familiar with him.
Walking in the halls of the Cosmopolitan early this week, the Utah State head football coach had the chance to see old colleagues and even a few players he coached at Mountain West media day. And although Wells is new to being a head coach, the men from his past - all of them future competitors - saw the foundations for what they believe can be a good rookie season.
"Utah State was smart in hiring Matt Wells," said Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter, who coached with Wells at Navy a dozen years ago. "Sharp guy, very smart coach, and being a grad there, I thought he was a really good fit to keep them going in that system."
Wells' two stints at New Mexico are well-remembered by Dallas Bollema, a hulking linebacker for the Lobos from Artesia, N.M. Wells came to Bollema's small hometown, recruiting him while serving under then-head coach Rocky Long. Wells returned in 2010 after a stint at Louisville to coach the Lobos receivers under Mike Locksley.
Bollema said media day was the first time he's seen Wells in years, but there has always been some warmth between them.
"I see him as an honest, outgoing person," he said. "He's always been in touch with me, genuine with me, he cared. Even though he's at Utah State, we still kind of keep in touch."
Kasey Carrier, the Lobos' preseason all-conference running back, remembered Wells for his schemes as well. Back when Carrier was returning kickoffs for New Mexico, he always liked Wells' kickoff return philosophy.
"I think Coach Wells will do great," Carrier said. "I wish him nothing but the best, except against us."
Long, who now leads San Diego State, won't face the Aggies this year unless it's in the Mountain West title game. But he said he was glad to see Wells, his former assistant, get a shot at a top job.
Although you never really know how a head coach will perform until he's thrust into his job, Long said, he sees a lot of key elements for success in Wells, including his strength of relating to his players.
"I think he understands schemes, I think he's inventive with schemes," Long said. "But the most important thing is he relates with players. As a recruiter, he was a good recruiter, so he related to recruits, but he also related with the guys he coached very well. When you relate well, you get the most out of the players because the communication is good, they can stand each other, they get better fundamentally, they get better assignment-wise, they do all that."
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon