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Birmingham, others float ideas on his successor

On April 19, University of New Mexico baseball coach Ray Birmingham holds a baseball signed by Warren Buffett during a press conference to announce his retirement at season’s end. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Ray Birmingham believes his successor as University of New Mexico baseball coach should have one key qualification.

“They need to have a name New Mexicans recognize,” Birmingham said. “New Mexico is what this program’s all about.”

Birmingham, who has announced he will retire at the end of this season, said he’s fielded numerous calls from potential applicants for his job. He refers them to athletic director Eddie Nuñez, who said he’s taking a patient approach to the hiring process.

Nuñez also asked for Birmingham’s input and received the veteran coach’s two cents’ worth.

“I’ve made my recommendation,” Birmingham said while declining to name his preferred candidate. “Now it’s up to Eddie. I’m very confident he’ll bring in someone who’s a good fit.”

Nuñez said there’s been plenty of interest in the position but, as one might expect, he opted not to name any applicants. Nonetheless, candidates’ names have begun to show up on social media, including some names New Mexicans undoubtedly will recognize.

Jordan Pacheco, shown in camp with the Minnesota Twins on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018, in Fort Myers, Fla., is a La Cueva alumnus, and a former New Mexico Lobo standout. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Kendall Rogers of recently floated three possibilities via Twitter: former Lobo and major leaguer Jordan Pacheco, Eldorado High alum and Chicago Cubs senior director Kyle Evans and former Mississippi State coach Andy Cannizaro.

Of course, such name dropping amounts to pure speculation.

Pacheco could not be reached Tuesday to confirm or deny interest, but his name drew online endorsements from a number of former Lobos. UNM standout D.J. Peterson posted a tweet including, “Jordan would be a big-time hire for @UNMLoboBaseball. …Extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the game. Couldn’t think of a better guy to fill that role!”

Pacheco is an Albuquerque native who was named Mountain West Player of the Year in 2007 and went on to play for the Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds.

Evans, who pitched collegiately at Baylor and for six seasons in the minor leagues, has filled several roles for the Cubs over the past 10 seasons, including senior director of player personnel.

Cannizaro, who played briefly in the major leagues, was an assistant coach at LSU and head coach at Mississippi State in 2017 before resigning in 2018.

Their credentials certainly vary. Neither Pacheco nor Evans has college coaching experience but both are familiar with the New Mexico terrain.

Nuñez said UNM’s next baseball coach will have to embrace the culture Birmingham has established.

“Some people might fit New Mexico and some might have winning records,” Nuñez said, “but we need someone who can win here. It requires a different approach than some places because UNM’s baseball coach has to fund-raise as well as coach his team, sometimes at the same time.

“There’s a great opportunity to be successful here, but there’s more to it than just Xs and Os.”

Birmingham has been able to accumulate wins and donations during his tenure, dramatically improving the baseball facilities in and around Santa Ana Star Field.

Nuñez hopes his next hire can continue Birmingham’s legacy for the program.

“That’s why I want him involved in the process,” Nuñez said. “He’s put so much time and effort into this program, he wants to keep it successful as much as I do.”

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