LAS VEGAS, N.M. — New Mexico Highlands athletic director Jeff Falkner named former New Mexico defensive coordinator Jeff Mills as the Cowboys’ head football coach on Friday.
“I am humbled and honored by the opportunity to serve as the head football coach at New Mexico Highlands University,” Mills said. “Throughout my life, I have dreamed of following in my father’s footsteps in leading a football program to excellence.
“My wife and I are excited to bring our family back to the great state of New Mexico,” he added. “Our coaching staff will hit the ground running. I see no reason why we shouldn’t attract some of the greatest players in New Mexico and beyond to our wonderful campus.”
Mills comes to Las Vegas after spending the 2014 season as the defensive line coach at Indiana State. Also assisting with the special teams unit, Mills helped guide the Sycamores to the NCAA playoffs for the first time in 30 years. Indiana State finished the season 8-6, seven wins better than the 2013 campaign and the best win/loss improvement in all of college football. It was also the Sycamores’ first playoff victory since 1983 and their first road playoff win in school history.
“We are very excited about the future of Cowboy football with Jeff Mills at the helm,” athletic director Jeff Falkner said. “I know our alumni, campus and community will embrace the plan we have to recruit and graduate quality students while winning a lot of football games in the process. The journey to a championship starts today.”
At Indiana State, Mills also oversaw academic progress for the Sycamores. Three different players were named Academic All-Conference while Kendall Walker made the Football Championship Subdivision Athletics Director Association (FCS ADA) Academic All-Star Team.
Prior to his stint in Terre Haute, Indiana, Mills served as defensive coordinator in 2012 and 2013 with New Mexico, helping the Lobos defense see dramatic improvement from 2011 to 2012. His defensive squad gave up 11.5 points less and almost doubled the amount of takeaways in 2012 from the season before. New Mexico allowed 47.4 yards per game fewer in his first season than it gave up in 2011.
Under Mills’ tutelage in 2012, senior strong safety Matt Raymer was nominated for the Burlsworth Trophy — which is awarded to a player who started their career as a walk-on. Raymer was sixth in the nation in forced fumbles and eighth in the Mountain West Conference with 7.5 tackles per game that season.
A graduate of Western Washington, Mills returned to the Evergreen State in 2009 to join Steve Sarkisian’s staff at Washington. Working with the secondary and the safeties, the Huskies saw immediate improvement on defense. In 2009, Washington held opponents to 62 fewer yards and 12 fewer points per game.
In 2010, Washington went to its first bowl game in eight seasons. It was also the Huskies first bowl win in a decade, as they knocked off Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl 19-7.
After beginning his career as an outside linebackers coach at his alma mater, Mills joined Hall of Fame coach Don James’ staff at Washington as a graduate assistant coach for the 1990 and ’91 seasons. The Huskies finished 1990 10-2 overall and 7-1 in the Pac-10 and won the Rose Bowl against Iowa. In 1991, Washington finished the season 12-0 (8-0 PAC-10) and defeated Michigan for its second consecutive Rose Bowl win and the national championship.
During his time in the coaching ranks, Mills has served as the tight ends coach at Drake (1989), defensive secondary coach for Montana State (’92-’94) and defensive coordinator for Nevada (2000-2003) and Youngstown State (2007-2008). Also at Idaho in both the 1990s and 2000s, he was secondary coach (’95-’97) and defensive coordinator (’98-’99 and 2006) and assistant head coach (’04-’05).
During 1998, the Vandals season culminated with a Big West title and a win in the Humanitarian Bowl against Southern Miss.
A native of Urbandale, Iowa, Mills played quarterback and outside linebacker for the Vikings, where he was a two-year letterman and was a senior co-captain. He earned a bachelor’s degree in broadcast communication from Western Washington in 1988.