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Krebs leaves UNM, but “I’m not running from anything”

Paul Krebs says he has been trying for months to retire from his position as athletic director at the University of New Mexico, only to have those in leadership positions talk him out of it.

They’ve now changed their minds.

Friday, amid mounting questions and state investigations about spending public money on a fundraising golf junket to Scotland in 2015, Krebs announced his retirement as vice president for athletics — a retirement formally accepted late Thursday by UNM Interim President Chaouki Abdallah.

“I’ve had multiple conversations with the leadership of the university for the past probably nine months – on and off for a variety of reasons – and I let them know I was interested in retiring,” said Krebs, the longest tenured athletic director in Mountain West Conference history after 11 years on the job.

In recent weeks, as the heat has been turned up after admissions Krebs used public money for the 2015 golf trip for three boosters, a possible violation of the state Constitution’s anti-donation clause, and formal investigations have been launched by the state auditor and attorney general.

Krebs insists he was not asked to resign, but would not directly answer a Journal question about whether somebody recently asked him to again submit the retirement notice he first tried to submit in 2016.

“I would tell you that it was my desire to retire,” Krebs said. “I’ve consistently made that known. I think when you look at the distractions that have occurred recently, I wanted to do what’s in the best interest of the university. I don’t want to be a distraction. I want to see this place succeed and be successful and continue to grow. So I offered my retirement letter.”

The Ohio native who was hired in 2006 after serving as athletic director at Bowling Green State University in his home state, said he understands public scrutiny, but has nothing to hide and has no plans to leave New Mexico.

“I understand why people may question the Scotland trip, but it was a working trip designed to raise money,” Krebs told the Journal. “As I’ve said, I’ve got nothing to hide. I welcome any engagement from the auditor. I’m not running away from anything. I’ll leave it at that.”

While his statement says the retirement will be “effective June 30,” Krebs plans to use accrued leave for the next month, essentially meaning he has worked his last day for Lobo athletics after 11 years. Per his contract, which was to run through June 2019 and paid him a base salary and compensation package of $419,000 annually, he is required to give 30 days notice to break the contract without penalty, which is why he will technically be employed through June 30.

While a specific timetable has not yet been set, Abdallah said Friday an interim athletic director will be named while a national search for Krebs’ permanent replacement is conducted. Abdallah “will be involved in both hiring decisions,” though it is unclear if an outside search firm will be used to identify candidates.

Abdallah, who said he felt university money should not have been used for the 2015 golf trip, has not said whether Krebs will be disciplined for decisions related to the junket.

“I thank Paul Krebs for his outstanding leadership of UNM athletics,” Abdallah said in a statement released by the school. “His tenure will go down as the most productive and successful in school history. Paul has tried to retire several times over the last year, and now I finally have reluctantly agreed to accept his retirement.

“Paul and Marjori (Krebs, Paul’s wife) have been very active in serving the University community, our city and our state. I wish Paul the best in his retirement.”

There has been unprecedented academic and on-field success for the athletic department in Krebs’ tenure. The school has won 64 league championships (57 in the Mountain West and seven in other leagues for sports not under the MWC umbrella). The 34 titles won from the 2011-12 academic year through the 2014-15 academic year is the most prolific stretch in Mountain West history.

But there have also been plenty of financial concerns in the department and mixed results on the hiring of coaches for the high profile spots of men’s basketball and football, the sport that has been easily the largest financial drain in Krebs’ tenure.

The athletic department operates annually on about a $33 million budget. It has posted deficits in seven of the past nine fiscal years, and projects that it will be eight of 10 years at the end of this month, and the department owes the main campus an estimated $4.4 million.

Krebs detailed in his resignation letter that in his first 10 years on the job, athletics raised through the Lobo Club and UNM Foundation, the fundraising arm of UNM, an average of $9.8 million per fiscal year, or as he more specifically noted, $26,850 per day.

Earlier this week, New Mexico Auditor Tim Keller called for a special audit into the department and the Lobo Club, the non-profit fundraising arm for Lobo athletics.

The special audit is in addition to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas last week announcing his office is opening an investigation directly relating to the June 2015 Scotland golf trip and whether Krebs violated any laws in his decision to spend public money to take boosters along.

“While I am pleased that Mr. Krebs resigned from UNM Athletics,” Balderas told the Journal, “our investigation of this matter is ongoing. Even if a public official leaves office, they can still face legal consequences for actions they took while in office.”

Keller also said his special audit, which is more about the entire athletics department and opening the books to the Lobo Club’s fundraising efforts, will also continue.

“Mr. Krebs decision to resign doesn’t change the need for a transparent accounting of the activities at the athletics department,” Keller said. “The public still deserves some sunshine on what’s going on at our state’s flagship sports program and our special audit will continue as planned. We need to get to the bottom of questions that have been raised regarding expenses, compensation and perks for senior staff and donors.”

Last week, Krebs admitted that $25,000 of the estimated $64,000 in public money UNM spent on the trip was to pay for the golfing packages – six nights and rounds of golf on five historic Scotland courses – for three boosters not employed at UNM.

He said the trip was successful in strengthening relationships with donors for fundraising purposes, telling the Journal on Friday the cumulative donations to UNM through the years from those on the trip are in excess of $10 million.

Initially, Krebs said UNM spent only about $39,000 for his trip, paying for his trip, that of former men’s basketball coach Craig Neal and of Lobo Club executive director Kole McKamey along with $13,625 in penalties for not having the contractually agreed upon number of golfers (24).

That was the extent of the spending of UNM money, Krebs told the Journal in late April. And an April 13 Inspection of Public Records Act request from the Journal seeking documentation of all spending by UNM for the trip netted heavily redacted records that failed to reveal any spending on the private boosters.

Krebs said he’ll be most proud of the academic success of student athletes at UNM in his 11 years, including record grade point averages and graduation rates. And among the facility upgrades on his watch was the creation of the Student Success Center for athletes.

Krebs’ retirement means his spot on NCAA men’s basketball selection committee, which he called “the most rewarding experience of his career,” will go to another Mountain West athletic director for the final three years of what was to be a four-year term.

“I feel badly,” NCAA vice president Dan Gavitt told CBS Sports of Krebs’ retirement. “It’s unfortunate that Paul’s retiring because he was a very good committee member even in just his one year of service, and I think the world of him.”

Krebs was serving on the selection committee in Arizona at the Final Four when UNM decided March 31 to fire Craig Neal as men’s basketball coach after four seasons, including a recent downturn in fan attendance. The Pit this past season finished outside the Top 25 in average home attendance for men’s basketball for the first time in 51 years the arena had been opened. The Journal reported March 30 the program, along with past revenue generating sports of football and women’s basketball, had posted back to back years of missing ticket revenue projections by well over $1 million.

Men’s basketball enjoyed great on-court and financial success under Steve Alford, another Krebs hire, and set record revenue highs in Neal’s first season as head coach.

But Krebs also had some coaching hire misses, most notably Mike Locksley, who went 2-26 with Lobo football before being fired during his third season and being owed a hefty buyout.

Krebs was also in charge during unprecedented facility upgrades around the south campus that were costly, but certainly brought UNM athletics either equal or beyond most of its peer universities outside of the Power 5 athletic conferences of college athletics.

With that came naming rights deals for various facilities, including the Pit — both a now defunct and highly scrutinized agreement with local pizza chain startup WisePies and the recent $10 million over 10 year agreement with Dreamstyle Remodeling for naming rights of both the Pit and the football stadium.

“Under Paul’s leadership, the University of New Mexico has grown into one of the premier programs in the Mountain West, academically and athletically, and that’s a great reflection of the championship culture that Paul, his coaches and administrative staff, and most importantly, the student-athletes at UNM have created,” MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson said. “Paul is also a strong voice within our conference, bringing perspective on issues of national significance, and representing the Mountain West in several capacities.

“We thank Paul for his service to our conference and wish him the very best.”

Paul Krebs Retirement Letter 6-1-2017 by Albuquerque Journal on Scribd