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Cheering on Neal

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Former players, fans have a positive reaction to decision

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. —  

For Craig Neal, the past few days have seen a groundswell of support an assistant basketball coach rarely sees.

Players, former players, boosters and even politicians chimed in, calling for Neal to be succeed Steve Alford as the University of New Mexico’s men’s basketball coach.

And when word trickled out that UNM athletic director Paul Krebs had tabbed the associate head coach as the program’s 20th head coach, reaction was swift and positive.

“I think it was a no-brainer,” ex-Lobo Hunter Greene said. “We pretty much know his history the last six years. It just feels right.

“The thing is the players feel comfortable, the community can feel comfortable, knowing a decision has been made, that there’s no great mystery of what’s going on. Paul Krebs had to do his due diligence and see what was there, but at the same time, knowing he had a really strong assistant.”

Greene, who has served as a color analyst for Lobo basketball games, is unsure what changes Neal might employ.

“I just know Neal played for Georgia Tech, and they had an up-tempo style of play. That might be something he will introduce to the program. … I would think, with his history, that up-style tempo, that may be something he would like to do.”

Others mentioned his basketball IQ.

“He’s an amazing motivator,” former Lobo Dairese Gary said. “Just his knowledge of the game is ridiculous. I learned so much from him on and off the court. He understands how to put people in the right position.”

“That’s fantastic for the program,” former Lobo Roman Martinez said. “I was at work and I got a text from my dad. I was ecstatic.

“He was coach Alford’s right-hand man and they took turns running the show. They were a great one-two punch, both unbelievable coaches. I have a lot of respect for both of them. I am so happy to hear the new coach is Craig Neal.”

Even former Lobos who did not play for Neal appear pleased.

“It’s a good pick because we can get all the players coming back and keep all the recruits,” Kelvin Scarborough said. “It was important to get somebody who was familiar with the program. He was the right pick.

“I think they’re going to be a top-10, top-15 team next year so it was important to keep that crew together. I think we made a great choice.”

“I think he will do a good job,” ex-Lobo Marvin Johnson said. “He had a good mentor. Steve did a great job, so I think he will, too.”

Lobo football coach Bob Davie said Neal’s situation reminds him of his own when, as a longtime assistant coach, he replaced his former boss Lou Holtz as head coach at Notre Dame in 1997.

“Paul Krebs and (senior associate athletic director) Tim Cass and the administration have watched him coach for six years,” Davie said. “That’s better than any interview; that’s better than any search committee.

“It takes time to develop the kind of identity our basketball team has, and I’m glad there will be a continuation of that.”

Lobo baseball coach Ray Birmingham threw his support behind the decision.

“He’s the popular choice and I think he’s a good choice,” Birmingham said. “He’ll keep our players together, and we know he’s been a big part of Steve’s success. He’s the recruiter.”

Lobo fans also chimed in.

“I think it’s an awesome hire,” Lobo fan Preston Patterson said. “I think it’s the best thing Krebs could have done. … I was hoping they’d hire (Neal). They had to stabilize the program somehow. I was worried all of our seniors were gonna leave.”

UNM fan Darren Sanchez said: “He’s been there six years. He’s already got relationships with the kids, and I think the kids trust him.”

Other takes from the Journal’s Sound Off and Twitter:

♦ WE ARE 100% behind you Coach and are glad the ride is over. It sure would be nice to have Cullen on the team …

- One ecstatic fan

♦ ALFORD’S APPRENTICE, great recruiter, ex NBA and the team loves him. … How can you possibly pass on a guy named Noodles!

- Marty O’Malley

♦ CRAIG NEAL has been here for the 6 years Alford has and knows what works here at UNM. He deserves this opportunity.

- Bob, UNM Area

♦ THANKS TO EVERY Lobo fan who helped my father get the job. Much love! … I wish there was a tears of joy (emoticon).

- Cullen Neal @C1_NEAL

♦ NOW WE NEED a picture from the team with shirts that say “we are all staying because Neal was hired”

- Ryan Ashcraft, former Lobo, @loboryebread12

♦ CONGRATULATIONS to Craig Neal for being named Head Coach of Lobo Basketball. I wish you well. Any chance of Cullen changing his mind about going to St. Mary’s and going to UNM?

- kas

♦ COACH CRAIG “Noodles” Neal – as good or better! I’m very excited and cannot wait for next season. The trip to Australia will be a great opportunity for Coach Neal to do some coaching well before Season #1 begins. At the start of the season the Lobos should be ready to go. Everything is now pointing to a enchanting year here in the Land of Enchantment

- New Mexico Lobos! UNM Alumnus

LOBOS LINKS: Roster | Schedule/Results | Geoff Grammer’s blog

— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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