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Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
Eddie Nuñez says he knows what he’s getting into.
He’s read the newspaper accounts of the two state investigations into the financial management of the University of New Mexico athletics department. He’s aware of the department’s inability to consistently balance its budget. He knows he is stepping into a department under fire.
And still, the 42-year-old Nuñez and his wife, Jane, left Albuquerque on Thursday excited about the potential of Lobo athletics.
So much so that Nuñez, the deputy director of athletics at Louisiana State University, accepted UNM’s offer to become the university’s 13th director of athletics.
“This isn’t something to be afraid of,” he told the Journal on Thursday afternoon as he was traveling back to Baton Rouge.
“It’s something that needs everybody on the same page moving forward, on the same team.”
Shortly after the Journal reported his hire on Thursday, UNM confirmed the hire in a news release indicating a formal introductory news conference will be held next week, but the date has not yet been determined.
“When you look at UNM, the tradition and everything associated with it, the opportunity to compete at a high level is there and there are just too many positives not to be excited about this,” Nuñez said. “It’s a great opportunity for my family and I to be a part of and we’re happy to be joining the Lobo family.”
Nuñez, along with his wife and two young daughters, will be heading to Albuquerque after spending the last 14 years in Baton Rouge, La. Nuñez held a variety of roles at LSU, most recently as the administrator in charge of men’s basketball and women’s tennis. He also worked extensively with external operations for the department, including marketing and licensing, as well as with the department’s fundraising arm — the Tiger Athletic Foundation.
Though a contract has not yet been signed, the Journal has confirmed the initial term sheet agreement calls for an annual base salary of $300,000 with additional annual compensation of $100,000 over five years with an option for up to two years of extensions.
Former athletic director Paul Krebs’ total salary and compensation package when he retired was worth $419,000 annually.
Krebs announced his retirement in June after 11 years amid an investigation from the state Auditor’s Office and another from the state’s Attorney General’s Office into the financial management and fundraising efforts by the department. The investigations came in the wake of revelations that public funds were used to pay part of a 2015 golf junket to Scotland. Questions have also risen about UNM’s failure to collect roughly $400,000 for the rental of luxury suites in the Pit since 2010, some of which boosters have said they were never billed for. The department is also without both a chief financial officer, a position that has been vacant for more than a year, and now without its director of business operation as Yvonne Otts resigned from that position last month.
UNM Interim President Chaouki Abdallah made the final decision on the hire after meeting in person Thursday with three finalists.
“We had a good search process that yielded three qualified and personable candidates,” Abdallah said in a news release. “We were looking for a leader who is dedicated to academic excellence, strong ethics, careful financial management and community engagement. The committee and I agreed that Eddie is the right person for this key position at UNM. Welcome to our Lobo family, Eddie.”
UNM utilized both a private search firm — Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search — and a 10-person internal search committee to fill the AD position.
UNM has refused to release the names of any of the applicants or candidates interviewed by UNM, which includes three finalists who were in Albuquerque on Thursday.
“The bottom line is it’s all public record,” said Greg Williams, president of the Board of Directors for the Foundation for Open Government.
“UNM should be doing everything it can to try and make this as transparent as possible. The UNM Athletic Department has taken a lot of criticism lately about how it operates. In order to give the public faith that it’s doing this process in as open a manner as possible, they should be disclosing as much information as they possibly can. What we’re talking about is the largest university in the state making a hire of one of the highest paid public officials in the state.”
UNM officials have not answered the Journal’s questions as to why they have yet to release any candidates’ names.
Nuñez said he looks forward to working to improve the openness and transparency in athletics and is confident in the department’s future.
“Everyone I’ve spoken with across the board has been very positive about this job and about Albuquerque and the entire state,” Nuñez said.
Nuñez grew up in Miami, where he played multiple sports in high school. After two seasons of junior college basketball, he was a walk-on for the University of Florida one year and earned a scholarship the next, playing for Billy Donovan.
He has an associate degree in arts and architecture from Miami-Dade Community College, a bachelor’s degree in sports management and a master’s degree in sports administration from the University of Florida.
After college, he worked for three years at Marquette and Vanderbilt before spending the past 14 years at LSU.
Who is Eddie Nuñez?
Alma mater: Florida, graduating in 1998
LSU: 14 years as deputy director of athletics
Vanderbilt: Director of game and event management
Marquette: Men’s basketball administrative assistant
Florida: Men’s basketball graduate assistant for Billy Donovan
Florida: Played two seasons on the basketball team, 1996-97, and 1997-98
Miami Dade: Played two seasons for the community college team
Wife, Jane Hess, two daughters, Elizabeth Kendall Nuñez, 8, and Anna Caldwell Nuñez, 6