ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Craig Neal on Tuesday was named by the United States Basketball Writers Association the District VIII Coach of the Year.
He is already tied for the most wins of any first-year head coach in University of New Mexico basketball history, and next week he’ll be the first Lobos coach to take the program to the NCAA Tournament in his rookie campaign in the first chair.
And while he signed a five-year contract last May to be the Lobos’ coach, the world of college basketball is a fickle one. Renegotiating such deals, especially after successful seasons, is not unusual.
But don’t expect it anytime soon, says UNM athletic director Paul Krebs, even if Neal’s current agreement costs the university significantly less money than did the one of his predecessor.
“He’s in the first year of a five-year contract,” Krebs told the Journal . “We felt that contract was very fair when it was signed, and we look forward to Craig being here for many more years.”
The notion that coaching contracts should be renegotiated each season, Krebs said, isn’t a path he’d like to go down.
Krebs said he does hope UNM forks over every penny in possible performance incentive payouts listed in Neal’s contract, which could be as much as $150,000 per season after the $750,000 per season he receives in base salary and other obligations he has met.
“I think the incentives are in the contract to reward significant success or milestones, so if he’s receiving incentives, it means we as a program or a university are doing some pretty special things,” Krebs said. “So I’m hopeful he earns as many of these as he can.”
Asked Monday about his performance incentives, Neal laughed. They aren’t exactly on his mind at this time of year, he said.
“I honestly don’t even remember what some of them are,” he said. “I didn’t even remember about the one (for winning the Mountain West regular-season title) until I read (a Journal story) about it the other day.”
That story Saturday stated a Lobos win in San Diego would, among many other things, bring a $20,000 incentive payout for Neal for his team winning the league’s regular-season title.
As far as renegotiating his current contract, Neal said he wouldn’t talk about anything along those lines during the season.
Neal’s “incentive salary” portion of the contract he, Krebs and UNM President Robert Frank signed in May includes such payouts as $20,000 for winning this week’s Mountain West tournament, $1,000 each time the Lobos beat a Top 25 team, larger payouts for advancement in the NCAA Tournament and beyond, as well as bonuses for meeting team academic benchmarks.
MORE AWARDS: Neal’s USBWA District VIII Coach of the Year award wasn’t the only accolade thrown the Lobos’ way. Senior forward Cameron Bairstow was named the district’s Player of the Year, and he joined senior guard Kendall Williams as two of 10 members of the All-District VIII team.
District VIII for USBWA voting consists of schools in New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Montana. Fellow Mountain West players on the All-District list are Colorado State’s Daniel Bejarano, Nevada’s Deonte Burton and Boise State’s Anthony Drmic.
UNM was one of three schools in the country to have both a district Player of the Year and Coach of the Year, joining Arizona’a Sean Miller and Nick Johnson (District IX) and Michigan’s John Beilein and Nik Stauskas (District V).