By: Derek Gonzalez
It is never ideal to lose a head men’s basketball coach at a Division I institution. Either the results were not there and a change in direction was needed, or the results were there and a university with bigger financial resources and facilities comes calling and plucks away a winning head coach.
Losing Paul Weir was a tough blow for the university and the men’s basketball program. But it was inevitable. Weir not only won games and set school records, but his demeanor and sophistication made him an attractive candidate for any university. The elephant in the room is who came calling for Weir. The University of New Mexico has fantastic facilities. The Pit is unique and when the Lobos are good, is a top-20 venue in the country. UNM Director of Athletics Paul Krebs nearly tripled Weir’s salary, and in the Mountain West Conference, the Lobos will have the chance to regional and national exposure. The 37-year-old Canadian native will have every opportunity to build UNM into a west coast power.
Already late in the process and without a substantial increase from Chancellor Garrey Carruthers as it relates to the base salary, NMSU Athletic Director Mario Moccia had to get creative and use well-developed relationships, and did both in the hiring of former Wichita State Associate Head Coach Chris Jans.
The market was not demanding of Jans as a head coach because of his mistake that cost him his job at Bowling Green. It was embarrassing to Jans, his family, and Bowling Green University, but Bowling Green, in just one year, had become a winner as a program who was not known for being a viable team in the Mid-American Conference. Jans took a 20-loss team into a 21-win team in just one year. Without his own players. Without any of his own recruits.
Now Jans come into a situation at NMSU where the team does not lack talent. Subtract Ian Baker, but add Ohio State transfer A.J. Harris and top-100 recruit L.J. Figueroa to a team that went 28-5. Moccia found not only an assistant coach who had run his own program before, but a successful one at that who appears to have learned from his mistake.
NMSU is a good job. The history, the Pan American Center, the warm weather and a beautiful campus makes it an attractive place for a high-level assistant looking for his first big break. Where NMSU falls short is in conference affiliation and money. Moccia walked into an unstable situation where his predecessor did not do enough to ensure that NMSU will be in a stable conference in the immediate future. Since Moccia took over, there has been very little movement in conference realignment. Moccia can only do so much at a university that does not put the emphasis it needs to financially in athletics.
Jans will take over a program that Moccia wants to see get tougher. Moccia saw first-hand what the program looks like when a head coach and his players captivate Las Cruces, as he played baseball at NMSU during the wonderful Neil McCarthy era. He spoke of it during the press conference that he wanted “tough dudes.” Remember Wichita State’s Final Four run in 2013 that Jans was a part of? Their motto was “play angry.”
Do not expect there to be any drop off from the Weir era to the Jans era.
But do not compare the two coaches, as their styles are completely different and they are two separate individuals. Obviously with where Weir is at now, that is what people will do. But keep this is mind. Weir has so much more to work with than Jans. They are not on the same playing field. Jans will bring out the best in the NMSU men’s basketball program, but that best may not be enough to be better than the Lobos. But that is fine. If Weir really hurt your feelings, the best way to get him back is to fill that Pan Am Center and make it the place he wanted it to be. Jans will give you every reason to.