At the other end of the line was Norm Ellenberger, with his longish hair and deep tan – a 47-year-old man partial to turquoise and form-fitting jeans. Ellenberger had prodded the University of New Mexico basketball program to new heights with a fast, aggressive style, and he intended to keep it that way. But he needed players.
“I got him an A.A. degree,” Goldstein said of a promising guard from a junior college in California.
“You got him a degree?” Ellenberger asked.
“Yeah, they’re gonna put 16 more hours on the transcript.”
“Which means he graduated.”
“Yeah, he graduated.”
Unbeknownst to them, the FBI had bugged the phone, looking to crack a gambling syndicate.
Instead, Lobogate had been hatched.
That memory from nearly 40 years ago was conjured up this month when former UNM athletic director Paul Krebs was charged with fraud and evidence tampering.
Krebs’ golfing expedition to Scotland, and his clumsy attempt to cover how its expenses were paid, cower in the shadow of Lobogate with its forged transcripts, bribery, mail fraud and a list of NCAA violations as long as the reach of 6-foot-10 Wil Smiley – who was on parole after being convicted of rape when Ellenberger signed.
But Krebs’ escapades are just the latest chapter in the tale of turmoil that has occasionally visited the campus.
Remember John Koenig? He was a slick-talking 40-something from the Midwest who impressed the locals upon his hiring as UNM’s athletic director in 1987.
A little more than a year later, the travel bug bit him. He was sacked after questions about his travel reimbursements. It doesn’t appear any trips involved golfing overseas, but they did include double-billing and booking trips for folks not authorized to travel on UNM’s dime.
He eventually pleaded guilty to six felony charges and was sentenced to nine years in prison. But the judge took pity on him, suspended the sentence and fined him $34,000.
Then there was the case of the 0.00 grade-point average.
In 1992, UNM had a senior guard named Steve Logan, who was having problems staying academically eligible. With a couple weeks left in the fall semester, Logan was dropped from two courses, leaving him shy of the needed 12 credit hours that would keep him eligible to dribble.
Incredibly, with a week left, he was enrolled in two different classes. Gary Ness, who was in his final days as UNM athletic director, wanted Logan suspended, but was overruled by main campus.
The next semester, Logan’s grades were leaked, revealing he had failed every course, stamping him with a 0.00 GPA.
About this time, Logan and the Lobos headed to Colorado State for a game. Every time he touched the ball, the fans chanted, “Zero! Zero!”
In the aftermath, there was a lot of hand-wringing and promises to do better by UNM officials. No crimes were charged, but Logan became the face of what was wrong with college athletics. Still, it was the supposed grown-ups – coach Dave Bliss and UNM president Richard Peck – who sacrificed the student for the athlete.
Whistles have been blown on football, too.
Current coach Bob Davie was the subject of a couple of investigations. The most damning charge, which he denies, was that in a meeting he told his team to “get some dirt on this whore,” referring to a female student who had reported being raped by a football player.
Davie was handed a 30-day offseason suspension, but otherwise coasts along.
Still, not everyone is paying attention. In 2018, his Lobos played in front of a total of about 99,000 fans in six home games – or about 10,000 more than watched Colorado play at Nebraska on Sept. 8 last season.
Then there was the legend of Mike Locksley.
Krebs managed to navigate the waters through the age and sex discrimination complaints against Locksley, as well as the coach’s verbal tirade to a young New Mexico Daily Lobo reporter. But one day, Locksley showed up at practice with a scratch on his face. His dog did it, he said. In truth, he had been in an altercation with one of his assistants.
Krebs brushed it off initially. After eight days, he issued Locksley a reprimand. After 33 days the pressure mounted,and Krebs suspended his coach 10 days. In news conference after news conference, UNM tried to explain how it had botched its investigation.
In an email, Krebs confessed that he feared Locksley would take him down with him.
But it all worked out. Locksley was fired two years later – not for his off-the-field antics but instead for bad football and lousy attendance. But he left UNM with a large chunk of change, rehabbed under St. Nick Saban of Alabama and is now head Terp in charge of the Maryland football program.
As for Krebs, he went on to visit the birthplace of golf.
And, presumably, he will get his day in court. Perhaps he will take solace in one of the lessons of Lobogate: the price of conviction can be cheap.
Ellenberger was found guilty of 21 counts of fraud and filing false travel vouchers, only to have the judge hand him one year of unsupervised probation. He reasoned that the coach was doing what many in the community wanted but had looked the other way until he was caught.
Oh, to be a Lobo in troubled times.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Journal assistant city editor Ed Johnson at 823-3884 or firstname.lastname@example.org.