ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s a tough time of the year to be an assistant college basketball coach.
Once the regular season ends, the speculation and scrambling for head coaching jobs begins. And depending on who is hired or fired can also determine the future of an assistant coach.
Couple that with an era in which many Internet sites and bloggers are more concerned about being first with the news than being right — along with many athletic departments being about as transparent as a presidential political campaign manager — and it creates quite the stress level for assistant coaches.
On top of that, nobody wants to be known as the guy who lost his bid for another job.
Which is why it was refreshing to see a pair of New Mexico men’s basketball assistants — associate head coach Craig Neal and Ryan Miller — step up to the plate in the past couple of weeks about their job search possibilities.
Neal didn’t shy away from the fact that he interviewed for head coaching spots at both Central Michigan and Colorado State, the latter creating quite the rumor mill. One website even reported Neal had been named the Colorado State coach.
It was a tough couple of weeks for Neal, who found out during the Lobos’ annual team awards banquet Tuesday night that he wasn’t getting the Colorado State gig. But just to tinker with his emotions even more, the Tuesday night reports that former Oregon coach Ernie Kent got the job changed on Wednesday. It was then reported that a high-ranking official at CSU had vetoed Kent’s hiring.
That had to lift Neal’s hopes yet again But later Wednesday it was reported Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy would be hired.
Eustachy was officially announced as the guy Thursday. Neal, Eustachy and Kent were all flown to Denver for second interviews Tuesday during the hectic process.
Through all the ups and downs, Neal was gracious and professional.
“It’s the nature of the business,” he said. “Was it disappointing? Of course. But I have a great job here, and I’m very happy to be here.”
Neal wasn’t the only guy on the Lobos staff to feel the twists and turns of the CSU search. Had Neal gotten the job, assistant Ryan Miller would have likely moved up the ladder on coach Steve Alford’s staff.
And had CSU assistant Craig Smith — another straight-up guy who made no bones about gunning for the Rams head coaching vacancy — been hired as CSU’s new coach, Miller would have probably received an offer from Smith for his staff — or from new Nebraska coach Tim Miles, who likely has been waiting to see what happened with Smith at CSU. Smith coached under Miles all five seasons at Colorado State, before Miles left last month.
Even with the CSU job finally being filled, there’s no telling whether Miller still gets an offer from another school. But in the meantime, he’s still in the same spot on the Lobos staff — except for a salary increase – that he was in five years ago. For a guy with head coaching aspirations who has been a top-notch recruiter and been part of a program that’s gone to two NCAA Tournaments in the past five years, it’s a tough situation.
The guess here is that both Neal and Miller will get other opportunities soon. They deserve it.
Opportunities might not come this year, but certainly should if the Lobos have another stellar season in 2012-13.
In the meantime, props to both for being upfront about their coaching prospects.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal