Weir, UNM agree to part ways at end of season - Albuquerque Journal

Weir, UNM agree to part ways at end of season

Paul Weir and UNM have agreed to part ways at the end of the season. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Paul Weir is stepping down as coach of the New Mexico Lobos at the end of the season.

The 41-year-old men’s basketball coach, in year four of a six-year contract with the University of New Mexico, came to an agreement with the university on a buyout, though terms of that buyout were not immediately available. His contract called for a $700,000 buyout over the next two seasons, though the agreement reached is believed to be for less than that. The Journal has learned that UNM Athletics intends to pay the entire buyout with privately raised money.

Weir, who was making $775,000 this season, informed his players of the move on Friday night.

“This is the perfect time for a transition in Lobo Basketball,” Weir said in a news release sent out moments after the Journal posted its initial story. “I can’t imagine a more optimal epoch than now for all of us to embrace a fresh start. I am incredibly thankful to Eddie (Nuñez, athletic director), President (Garnett) Stokes, and the UNM personnel that have kindly provided the opportunity for me to segue my career in such a courteous manner. Their leadership will surely make this next chapter of Lobo Basketball the greatest one yet.”

Weir has a 58-61 record at UNM and a five-year career record of 86-67 that includes coaching one season at New Mexico State University, taking the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament in his debut season after nine years as an assistant there. This season, with the team being relocated out of state for games because of restrictions related to the public health order in New Mexico, the Lobos are 6-14 overall and 2-14 in Mountain West Conference play — alone in last place in the 11-team league.

UNM Lobo head coach Paul Weir reacts in the final moments of the loss to the San Diego Aztecs at the Pit on Jan. 29, 2020. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The Lobos have a game Wednesday at Colorado State and then the March 10-13 MWC tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Nuñez will address media on Saturday morning. A national search for his replacement will begin immediately.

“Paul and I agree that a change of leadership in our men’s basketball program is in our best interest at this time,” said Nuñez in a statement. “While this year has certainly been challenging for Coach Weir, his staff, and our student-athletes, after evaluating the overall program, it is the appropriate time for a new beginning. I want to thank Paul and his family for their commitment and service to New Mexico and we wish them the very best in the future.”

Weir took over a program in decline after four seasons of Craig Neal as head coach — and was ultimately unable to change that. UNM remains in its longest postseason drought in more than half a century with no NCAA Tournament or NIT invitation since 2013-14.

After being picked to finish ninth in his first season, Weir led the Lobos to a third-place finish in the Mountain West. The team rode a late season seven-game win streak into the MWC tournament championship game against San Diego State with a berth in the NCAA Tournament on the line, but ended up losing a close game.

In 2019, Weir’s second season at UNM, the Lobos beat No. 6 Nevada in the Pit, 85-58, for the top win in Weir’s tenure. But the team stumbled from there, losing 10 of the next 13 and finished 14-18 overall, 7-11 in league play and as the No. 7 seed in the conference tournament, losing to Utah State in the quarterfinals.

Weir, who still owes NMSU a buyout from when he left the Aggies in 2017 after one season, was swept by his former school in four games over his first two seasons.

His third season, with a roster headlined by high-profile transfers, the Lobos jumped out to a 13-2 start with a sweep of the Aggies and a big win in Brooklyn over the Big Ten’s Wisconsin Badgers.

But in late December 2019, two starters — point guard J.J. Caldwell and center Carlton Bragg — were suspended after being accused of crimes for which, ultimately, neither was charged.

Caldwell never played again. Bragg returned for two games in January 2020, only to later be dismissed after a DWI arrest. Later that season, after a road loss at Nevada and former head coach Steve Alford, team members attended a party back in Albuquerque hosted by Lobo senior JaQuan Lyle when their charter flight got back in town. At the party, two people were shot, including a UNM softball player.

Calls for Weir’s job began to intensify then and his relationship with the administration was strained.

Season four was the most inexperienced roster in Weir’s tenure with 12 new players and four new staff members — all facing a season of uncertainty where games, or even practices for that matter, were not allowed in the state due to a strict public health order.

Even before the season started, the top high school recruit in recent memory for the Lobos — Santa Fe High graduate and consensus Top 100 recruit J.B. White, who graduated a year early to join his home-state Lobos — was shot and killed at a party outside of Santa Fe less than a week before he was going to move to Albuquerque to join the team.

Within two weeks, the Lobos’ leading returning scorer, Zane Martin, transferred, citing uncertainty about whether there would be a season in New Mexico. During the season, two Lobo guards — senior guard Keith McGee and freshman guard Nolan Dorsey — announced they would not finish the season.

Through it all, in what became a historically bad season for the Lobos, Weir was open about the mental toll the season and living out of hotels has taken on his team and how that was of more concern to him than any win or loss.

“That was something I had to be at peace with a long time ago when this season started and we were kind of faced with what we were faced with,” Weir said on Feb. 3. “… If I wanted to practice (when the state health order prohibited it), if I wanted to do certain things that I probably could have gotten away with, we could have done those things, but I just couldn’t quite do that. I felt a responsibility to these young men. I felt a responsibility to UNM, I felt a responsibility to the high school kids out there that want to play sports. To the other people here at UNM. …

“I hold my head high, and put my head on the pillow feeling as though whatever question you’re about to come up with, I accepted those, and I knew those were coming. And if I was worried about those, I wouldn’t have acted this way along the way.”

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