By: Derek Gonzales
When former New Mexico men’s basketball coach Craig Neal was fired just before midnight on March 31, 2017, the Lobos had their fair share of candidates that were attracted to the position. The Pit is one of the most unique venues in the country. UNM has plenty of support from Santa Fe along with a big base of boosters. Albuquerque is a lovely city. But one by one, things did not work out. Not with San Antonio Spurs assistant James Borrego or East Tennessee State University head coach Steve Forbes. After swinging and missing a few times, Krebs and his search committee focused their attention on a new candidate. This candidate was in his inaugural season as a Division I head basketball coach and led his program to a school-record 28 wins, including a win over Arizona State and earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament, where his team led 3rd-seeded Baylor at the half.
The candidate was New Mexico State’s Paul Weir.
Krebs, who is on the NCAA Selection Committee, was assigned to study the Western Athletic Conference amongst others as a part of his duties for selecting teams for the NCAA Tournament. He caught plenty of New Mexico State basketball as he said at Paul Weir’s introductory press conference last week.
“I saw a team that played hard and played really good defense,” Krebs said in his opening statement. “A team that gave great effort every night and were very strong rebounding.”
Those qualities, along with an impressive interview by Weir with Krebs and the UNM search committee, earned the 37-year-old first-year collegiate head coach a six-year contract to move up I-25 and replace Neal as the Lobo’s head men’s basketball coach. It was an unprecedented move by Weir to go from one state school directly to its main in-state rival. The only other comparable move in modern college basketball was Rick Pitino’s move from Kentucky to Louisville, but a stint coaching the Boston Celtics in between those two schools softened the criticism.
“I was at New Mexico State for ten years and poured my heart and soul into the place,” Weir said as he donned a cherry and silver tie that would have almost any Aggie fan watching the press conference uncomfortable. “It was very successful. I started my family there, and I got degrees from there. It would have taken a lot to leave and this was that opportunity. It was too good to pass up. There are people back at New Mexico State who are disappointed in me and will never forgive me but this opportunity was too good to pass up.”
Weir is now the first basketball coach to serve as the head man for both of New Mexico’s Division I institutions. In his only season at NMSU, the Aggies went 28-6 overall (10th-most wins in NCAA history for a first-year Division I head coach) and 11-3 in WAC play. After ending the season with a trip to the Big Dance, NMSU ranked fifth in the country in 3-point percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 29.4 percent from the field (UNM ranked 284th in this category, allowing teams to shoot 36.8 percent from 3).
The Aggies also ranked in the top 35 in block percentage (5th), rebounding margin (19th), scoring margin (19th), free throws (21st), rebounds per game (25th), offensive rebounds per game (27th), and free throw attempts (28th).
Weir does have ties to the previous two UNM regimes, as he served as the Director of Basketball Operations at the University of Iowa under former UNM head coach Steve Alford. Craig Neal was an assistant on that staff.
During Weir’s press conference, Krebs said on more than one occasion that the buyout on Weir’s NMSU contract would be “in between Weir and NMSU.” UNM does not hold a contractual obligation to give NMSU any buy out compensation, and per NMSU Director of Athletics Mario Moccia, “It is still my understanding that Weir owes NMSU $500,000.” (This is as of April 12)
“This is the business side of intercollegiate athletics, and though I am professionally disappointed in losing a great coach, I am also personally disappointed in losing a great friend,” Moccia said at a press conference almost 24 hours after Weir and UNM had theirs. “I want to thank him for his ten years of dedicated service to New Mexico State University. He helped produce one of the most successful seasons in the history of Aggie Basketball. As a friend, I wish him well…all but two days out of the year.”
Weir’s base salary for his only season at NMSU was $250,000. This upcoming season at UNM, he will earn a base salary of $625,000. A concern that has been sparked with this move is the state of NMSU’s finances, in the University as a whole and the athletic department. NMSU Athletics is mandated to pay back a debt to the University that was once $10 million. It has been cut to $4.3 million, and through payments of $890,000 this fiscal year, $970,000 next fiscal year, $1.63 million the following year, and $487,000 the year after that pays off the sum owed. Moccia reiterated the word “mandate,” to specify that his department MUST do what is asked by Carruthers. UNM also has a budget deficit in the athletic department, but on top of what they will pay Weir, they also will be paying Neal 24 installments over the next two years equaling $1 million.
Those mandated payments from athletics to the Universtiy would usually be money that amongst other places, could go towards coaching salaries. Moccia was asked about the type of contract he would be able to offer the next head coach, and it appears that Carruthers will not give Moccia increased financial wiggle room to make a more appealing offer than was given to Weir.
President Garrey Carruthers issued out a statement last week which said the following:
“This is an update to our campus community regarding the departure of our men’s head basketball coach Paul Weir to the University of New Mexico. We gave Paul Weir his first head coaching opportunity one year ago. We knew then, as we know now, he is a young, talented basketball coach who has enormous potential going forward in his career.”
Importantly, everyone should know we were proactive in our attempts to keep Coach Weir at NMSU. We knew we had good coach on our hands, and we also knew other universities would notice him, especially after the team rattled off 20 consecutive wins on their way to a 28-6 record. That’s why we started designing an improved bonus package for Coach Weir two to three weeks ago and the plan was shown to both him and his agent. Unfortunately, we never had an opportunity to finish the conversation.
We wish Coach Weir the best and a successful season next year, except for the two games against our NMSU Aggies.”
Incentive-based bonuses will not work going forward in keeping successful men’s basketball coaches. An increase in base salary is will what need to take place, and if an effort by Carruthers to increase Weir’s salary had been made, while probably not the $625,000 UNM offered, maybe Weir stays and waits for a better opportunity. A raise after a record-setting season was not too much to ask for.
“I want Aggie fans to know this,” Moccia stated as his attention shifted towards finances during the press conference. “Athletics has a mandate to balance its budget from campus every year. In my two full years here, we have done that. While we can bemoan what others have financially, to me, that is a tremendous waste of energy. What athletics can control is finding the best head coach that fits our financial means. The $250,000 base salary (Paul Weir’s NMSU salary) isn’t the ceiling, but it is getting close to it.”
NMSU is the only men’s basketball job in the nation that has a vacant position. It is mid-April, which is late in the hiring process, but the fact that Moccia is just a year removed from going through the same process will prove to be beneficial. The only candidate from last year’s job who got a head coaching job besides Weir was then-Arizona assistant Joe Pasternack, who has since been hired as the head man at UC-Santa Barbara. Moccia listed 11 qualities he is looking for in the next head coach. They are listed here:
* Ability to recruit quality, character, and talent that fits his staff’s style
* Focused on academics
* Have a tremendous work ethic
* Huge desire to win
* Be positive with the team
* Able to hire a staff that compliments his weaknesses
* Communicates well and directly with the team
* Ability to mentor individuals on and off the court
* Somebody that will instill toughness
* A coach who wants to be at New Mexico State
* Somebody who understands the role of being a head basketball coach and representing the program and department in the community and statewide
These are three candidates to keep an eye on going forward.
Reggie Theus (Current Cal-State Northridge head coach, former NMSU head coach from 2005-07)
This is a big name for most fans and students who remember the Theus era. In just two years, Theus turned around a program that was 6-24 the year before he arrived and won 16 games in his first year before winning 25 in year two and bolting for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. The former NBA all-star is still revered by many in Las Cruces, but in four seasons at CS-Northridge, he has yet to have a winning season.
Ryan Miller (Current assistant at Texas Christian University)
Miller is known for being one of the top recruiters in the nation while working at TCU, UNLV, UNM, and Memphis. While at UNM, he was responsible for the recruitment of J.R. Giddens, Darington Hobson, Tony Snell and Cameron Bairstow. He has won over 250 games as an assistant over 13 years.
Jesse Bopp (Current NMSU assistant coach)
Bopp has only been in Las Cruces one season, but has gained for the respect of most current players on the Aggie roster. A.J. Harris and Matt Taylor have advocated for Bopp to be promoted on social media, but Bopp is a bit young at just 33 years old. He possesses some of the qualities Weir showed as an assistant, being fiery and full of energy as well as a quality coach in terms of X’s and O’s.