The son of Carolina and Fausto Nuñez showed up to Albuquerque this week with the work ethic of his Cuban immigrant parents, the strength and support of his wife, the energy of his two young daughters and the passion of a first-time athletic director eager to take on whatever challenge awaits him.
Eddie Nuñez, formally introduced Friday inside the Tow Diehm Center as the 13th athletic director at the University of New Mexico, spoke extensively about family and the importance of working together to accomplish a shared vision.
“We are going to continue to be great here at UNM,” Nuñez said. “‘Continue,’ because UNM is not broken, and I want everyone to understand that.”
Nuñez didn’t deny there is plenty of work to be done to restore morale and trust in a Lobo athletics department weathering a metaphoric storm because of ongoing state investigations into financial mismanagement. But he also displayed a healthy dose of perspective. He choked up when saying he is praying for his mother and large Miami family, who have chosen not to evacuate their Florida Gulf Coast homes as Hurricane Irma quickly approached.
“My family is about to experience a pretty harsh natural disaster that is coming their way,” he said. “My thoughts and prayers are with them right now.”
As for his new job at UNM, while the contract has not yet been released, the Journal has learned it’s a five year deal paying Nuñez an annual base salary and compensation package of $365,000 with up to $35,000 in incentive bonuses.
A mirrored buyout term of half his remaining $300,000 annual base salary, for the remaining term of the entire contract, would be owed to UNM if Nuñez breaks the contract or to Nuñez if UNM breaks it.
Nuñez made clear Friday that taking over Lobo athletics after the June retirement of Paul Krebs came only after serious consideration from his family – both about the job and the city.
“When we made this decision, we had to make sure the community had schools, church, after-school activities (and) is the right size,” said Jane Nuñez, his wife and mother of Elizabeth, 8, and Anna, 6. “It has to feel good. Any time we’ve ever crossed this path (of taking a new job in college athletics), I’ve said to him, ‘I don’t think it feels right.’ But this time it felt right for us.”
Eddie Nuñez takes over an athletic department that has failed to balance a budget – an operations budget this fiscal year of about $34 million – in eight of the past 10 years. UNM athletics is subsidized by at least 20 percent, including $4 million in student fees.
At LSU, where he was deputy athletics director, his department had a 2015-16 fiscal year budget of about $130 million, turning a profit of $12 million without accepting a penny of student fees or university subsidies.
To put it simply, they are two different beasts.
“As soon as I get an opportunity to sit across from (Executive Vice President David) Harris and others, we’re going to get our arms around this (budget),” Nuñez said. “We’re going to do this the right way.”
He said he will work to make sure “our house is in order” in athletics so it adheres to basic principles of accountability, transparency and fiscal responsibility.
And that means leaning on, and trusting, those around him to work toward the same vision he has. That’s a task the high-energy Nuñez may find challenging.
“He would love to do all 100,000 jobs,” Jane Nuñez said. “But he has learned – has had to learn – how to delegate. He would love to have his hands in every pot. That’s going to be a challenge for him.”
Other than an immediate need to hire a chief financial officer for athletics, Nuñez has not yet thought about recruiting anyone else into the department, nor has he started thinking about the possibility of cleaning house.
“My first 30 to 60 days is going to be assessing this staff,” Nuñez said. “Everyone is going to be going through somewhat of a job interview with me. …
“I want to know everybody is engaged and involved and together. I don’t need these silos – I don’t need individual silos. We’re going to fix this together.”