Of all the criticisms that came after Tuesday’s loss to UNLV, and there were plenty, only one seemed to bother Lobos head coach Paul Weir.
Questions — both from the Journal and from some onlookers around the Mountain West interested in the Lobos’ practice habits — about some recent comments the second-year Lobos coach made about the team’s workload of late seemed to suggest he was going over the top with player treatment.
“See you at 5 a.m.,” was Weir’s response to a question about what the coach told his team after Tuesday’s late night 80-69 home loss to UNLV, a game the players didn’t leave Dreamstyle Arena — the Pit until well after 11 p.m.
He had also spoken recently about making the team practice three times a day for 10 consecutive days.
In his two-plus years as a head coach, Weir has openly embraced the value of college athlete welfare for his system, at times using such methods as yoga and meditation while also instituting daily vitamin and dietary guidelines and requiring his players to meet certain health benchmarks before they’re allowed to play. He’s even spoken publicly about the failures of universities across the country to adequately fund mental health resources for athletes, saying, “A lot of our student athletes these days are incredibly under-resourced when it comes to mental support.”
UNM Lobo basketball coach Paul Weir on Monday said he feels college athletes are "incredibly underresourced when it comes to mental support" and coaches, himself included, need to do more about it. Full quote here… pic.twitter.com/vGtJbPTPR9
— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) February 13, 2018
That history is why Weir admitted he was “disappointed” to learn he hasn’t done enough through past actions to ward off accusations of being an overbearing coach now. While he acknowledged a 5 a.m. practice, which the team has done before this season, may sound like a punishment, he said he views it far more of an attention-getter than a punishment.
“I don’t do some of the things that maybe still go on in coaching,” Weir said. “I have to find creative ways to get my point across. That’s exactly what I told them at 5 a.m. … (The UNLV game) wasn’t acceptable, for them or any of us as coaches. I have to find a way to impress that on them creatively.”
Still, the practice didn’t sit well with some on social media, nor some onlookers from around the league who reached out to the Journal on Wednesday to point out the possibility of that practice violating NCAA bylaw 188.8.131.52.6.2. It states, “Once a student-athlete is officially released from team obligations following a home contest after 9 p.m. (local time), the institution must provide the student-athlete a continuous eight-hour period (without another team function).”
That rule, however, only applies to the “autonomy” conferences. Programs outside of the “Power 5” structure, including schools in the Mountain West Conference, can opt in to such rules if they choose.
UNM, according to Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez, has not done so, though he added, “I am looking into it.” He also said neither he nor his compliance office has ever received any complaint, internally or from other league sources, about the men’s basketball team violating practice rules, something he said he feels Weir takes more seriously than most coaches he’s encountered in his career.
UNM’s compliance office cleared all practices before Weir conducted them.
As for the Lobos’ practice on Wednesday morning, they did gather for about 30 minutes of drills and had the rest of the day off.
Saturday night after the team’s historic 85-58 win over then-No. 6 Nevada in the Pit — a victory that led his players to douse him with water in celebration in the locker room after the game — Weir also loosely referenced more seemingly overbearing practice demands.
“I’m glad,” Weir said. “I’m hard on these guys. I am. And I put them through a lot. They’ve had three-a-days for 10 straight days. They haven’t had a day off. They don’t get an afternoon off. They’re all – especially the new guys – walking back to their rooms thinking, ‘God, I got to go back again tonight?’ I’m hard on them, so I’m glad that they still like me after all that.”
The Lobos actually had 11 consecutive days of practices between Dec. 26 and the Nevada win on Saturday. But, aside from that not being an NCAA violation during the winter break when the players aren’t in classes, the comment may have been interpreted as meaning the team had three full, physically demanding practices a day for 10 consecutive days.
Teams are allowed 20 hours of practice a week, and UNM men’s basketball has not, under Weir, been formally accused of violating that. Weir told the Journal a lot of those “three-a-days” constituted a conditioning and weights session, a film study session and an on-court practice.
Weir said the program is calculated about why it mixes up the team functions throughout the day.
“Half the time I bring them back at night for film is to make sure they’re eating dinner and not, like, McDonald’s or something like that,” Weir said. “This is all done with their well-being in mind. It’s not any kind of punishment or anything. It’s all about trying to make sure that they’re getting a great basketball experience. But I’m also trying to teach them values about good work ethic and time management and health habits.”