LAS VEGAS, Nev. – The Lobos won’t be in the NCAA Tournament this season.
But the hope is the person tasked with coaching them back there after a seven-year drought will be officially hired by the start of games next week in Indiana.
Eddie Nuñez, the UNM athletic director heading the search for the next University of New Mexico men’s basketball coach, appears to be honing in on the final few candidates on his list of possible successors to Paul Weir, who was pushed out after four seasons.
If things go as planned – and after what he hopes will be in-person conversations in the coming days with candidates or people he considers vital to making the final decision – Nuñez says there could be news on the new coach soon.
“What that means is – I can’t say Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, but my hope is it will be in that (next week) time frame,” Nuñez told the Journal in Las Vegas. On Wednesday, Fresno State beat UNM 85-77 in the Mountain West tourney quarterfinals, ending the Lobos’ season at 6-16.
And while he has maintained from the start of the search that a key factor in the process is talking with and listening to a long list of people about who the best fit might be, he also says the decision will ultimately belong to one person alone.
“I know I’m never going to please everybody, but I’m going to do everything I can to find someone who’s going to represent this program, lead this program with dignity with class,” Nuñez said.
CURRENT STAFF: In addition to the Lobos fan base, and of course the Lobo players, there are four former men’s college basketball head coaches still on payroll at UNM who would certainly like to know who the next head coach will be – and if he may be interested in any of them sticking around.
“You know, I’ve had a great, great two years here,” said Lobos assistant Dan McHale, the one assistant on staff that is on a multi-season contract through the 2021-22 season. UNM would have to buy him out if he is not retained by the next coach.
“I love the guys in the program and being a part of this place, but right now we’ve just got to kind of see what the future holds. …
“It’s never easy when you pour your heart and soul into something and you want it to work … and that’s what we’ve done. But this is part of the business. We know that. It’s hardest on my wife and kids, to be honest.”
In the Albuquerque Sunport on Tuesday, McHale passed out some boxes of candy to Lobo staffers personalized with a note from his kids – daughters Lilly, 12, and Molly, 5, and regular Pit ball boy when games were allowed in the Pit, Daniel, 9.
Assistant Ralph Davis has spent the past 12 years in the state where he was a longtime junior college coach at New Mexico Military Institute before joining the Lobos. He is hopeful to continue in the profession in the region he knows.
“Like Paul (Weir, who coached in New Mexico 14 years before the announced separation agreement on Feb. 26), I have a lot invested in this state,” said Davis. “Who knows what the future holds, but for this to even potentially be over, it’s emotional. … If I have an opportunity to help assist and help push this program forward, I’d love to do that.”
Scott Padgett, whose son Logan is on the Lobos roster, took the UNM gig a year ago after being let go as Samford head coach in large part because he wanted to be back at a place that “cares about basketball.”
That, the former Kentucky Wildcat national champion and NBA player said, and experiencing the Pit still have intrigue.
“Right now, my agent and I are just trying to get together and see what’s best,” Padgett said. “But I’m sure whoever gets this job, I’m sure I’ll get a chance to sit down and talk with at some point. … If I could have an opportunity to coach on the staff at the University of New Mexico in a year when there was a normal season and being in the Pit, that would not be something I’d be opposed to, that’s for sure.”
Former Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich, who spent the past season as UNM’s Special Assistant to the Head Coach, said he, too, wouldn’t be opposed to more time in the Lobos program if there was mutual interest from the next head coach. But he echoed the others in understanding the business lends itself to no guarantees.
“I’m excited about what’s next,” Pilipovich said. “I want to stay involved with basketball – whatever capacity that may be. If there’s possibly a head coaching position that’s available that’s a fit, awesome. If there’s an assistant coaching position that’s a fit, awesome. I really enjoyed this position as a special assistant. It gave me an opportunity to grow as a person and a coach, and I loved the relationship with players.”