Jon Newman-Gonchar does not believe the University of New Mexico volleyball program needs a complete rebuild. Perhaps just a jump-start is in order.
Newman-Gonchar was hired as UNM’s new indoor volleyball coach Monday — the first head-coaching job for Newman-Gonchar and the first head-coaching hire for athletic director Eddie Nuñez.
The 36-year-old Newman-Gonchar has been a Division I assistant coach since 2006, including spending the last three seasons as associate head coach at Arkansas. The Razorbacks played in UNM’s Lobo Classic at the Pit in 2016, one of Newman-Gonchar’s three visits to Albuquerque. It’s fair to say he came away impressed.
“It was a first-class experience,” Newman-Gonchar said in a phone interview. “After going up the tram and seeing the area I just thought, wow, Albuquerque is a spectacularly beautiful city. My wife and I can’t wait to call it home.”
Newman-Gonchar’s contract is for four years with financial terms to be finalized and released later this week, Nuñez said. Newman-Gonchar takes over for Jeff Nelson, whose contract was not renewed after the Lobos finished 15-15 in 2018, Nelson’s 12th season.
Newman-Gonchar has yet to meet UNM’s returning players but said he has studied considerable video from last season.
“Right off the bat you see they were a talented team,” he said. “They had a .500 year but there were five or six matches they lost that came down to just two or three points. They were very close to being a 20-10 team and there’s a good core group returning with a nice group of recruits. I like what I’ve seen.”
Nuñez said he met with UNM’s returning players during the hiring process. Staff members and assistant coach Pauline Manser have also been in contact with four committed recruits who signed with UNM in November before the coaching change was announced.
“The timing wasn’t ideal because this all happened when classes were out of session,” Nuñez said. “But we’ve reached out to everyone, including the recruits. The main thing we asked was that they get to know our new coach before they ask for a scholarship release. They all said they were willing to do that.”
Newman-Gonchar said he plans to contact UNM’s recruits as soon as possible.
“That’s on top of my to-do list,” he said. “I’ve got to make connections with our players and recruits and make sure they know they’ve got a city and a coach who really want them.”
A Southern California native, Newman-Gonchar said he fell in love with volleyball growing up. He played club ball while attending Northern Arizona University and has been building his coaching résumé ever since.
Newman-Gonchar’s stops include Louisiana-Lafayette (2006), UC San Diego (2007-09) where he worked with both the men’s and women’s teams, Loyola Marymount (2010-12), Iowa State (2013-15) and Arkansas. He served as recruiting coordinator at LMU and Iowa State, helping to build teams that made three combined NCAA Tournament appearances.
In addition, Newman-Gonchar coached Team USA’s Pan American Cup team to a gold medal in the Dominican Republc. He worked with Team USA squads in international competitions in Peru and China in 2016 and ’17, respectively.
“We wanted someone who could work and recruit in different regions,” Nuñez said, “and Jon has certainly demonstrated that. Everyone I spoke to about him said he’s got great energy, can really recruit and he’s a quality person. Those are big things I look for in a hire.”
Nuñez said he was delighted with a lengthy list of applicants for the job. UNM ultimately interviewed five candidates and had three on campus as finalists. The latter group included Manser, who remains on staff and will coach UNM’s beach volleyball team this season. Beach volleyball is among the sports UNM intends to cut after 2018-19 for budgetary reasons.
“Pauline has been extraordinary through all this,” Nuñez said.
Newman-Gonchar and his wife, Morgan, are expecting their first child. He said finding an appealing city with what he views as a high-potential volleyball program quickly won him over.
“People in Albuquerque love their Lobos,” he said, “and there’s a lot to be said for a fan base that supports women’s sports as well as men’s sports. I feel like there’s a lot already in place with this program. It’s just stalled a little bit the last couple years. Hopefully, we can build on what the previous coaches have done and get things moving forward again pretty quickly.”