Janice Ruggiero has devoted virtually her entire professional life, and the majority of her adult life, to the University of New Mexico athletic department.
On Friday, the woman who has long been hailed as a champion and mentor for UNM student-athletes said the time had come for her to try something else.
Ruggiero’s retirement from UNM athletics was announced on Friday, although her affiliation with her alma mater will continue.
Next month she is joining the UNM Foundation to help with fundraising efforts.
“I think once you’ve been doing a job for so long, it gets repetitive,” Ruggiero said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.
“Once you get to that point, someone new needs to come in with a fresh set of eyes.”
A former Lobo basketball player herself (1984-87) coming out of Eldorado where she played for Don Flanagan, Ruggiero, 55, was the longest-tenured member of the school’s athletic department. She was the Deputy A.D. for Internal Operations, a position she had held since December 2015.
“A stalwart and a leader at UNM,” athletic director Eddie Nuñez said in a press release issued by the athletic department. “From her time as a student-athlete to her time in administration, Janice’s love for her home has always shown in her passion towards everything she has done. In her 30-plus years at UNM Athletics one thing that has remained as her guiding light, and it’s her dedication (and) her true commitment to the student-athletes.”
Ruggiero became a UNM employee in the early 1990s. It was not immediately known how the department was going to address the position she is vacating. A message for Nuñez was not immediately returned Friday.
“You know what? I hadn’t been thinking about (retirement), but I was talking with a friend of mine at the Foundation, and it just kind of came up,” Ruggiero said. She will be a Director of Development for the Anderson School of Management, of which she is an alumna.
“This will be a really good thing for me.”
As part of her former job description, Ruggiero was responsible for overseeing athletic performance areas, the training room, academic services and compliance. She also had served as UNM’s Mountain West Conference liaison and has had sport oversight over women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, track and field and women’s golf.
She once was the department’s Associate AD for 15 years — the title she held before her most previous position — and UNM’s Senior Woman Administrator since 2000.
She even served as interim AD for a few months in 2017, after Paul Krebs retired and before Nuñez’s hiring. Among a handful of national assignments, Ruggiero was a member of the Division I Women’s Basketball Committee from 2002-04.
Ruggiero first stepped on campus as a basketball recruit, then named Janice Branch, who was recruited by then-head coach Doug Hoselton. She later was an assistant coach for the Lobos before filling various administrative positions the last 30-plus years.
“It’s so funny — you hear a lot of people say this is their dream job, but for me, it was,” Ruggiero said. “I grew up watching Michael Cooper play in the Pit, and I always wanted to be able to play one day in the Pit, being able to play in front of my parents.”
Ruggiero and UNM
1984: Joined the Lobo women’s basketball team, which disbanded in 1987: Transferred to Hawaii for her senior season.
1989: Graduated from UNM with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing and General Management.
1991: Returned to the reinstated basketball program as an assistant coach.
1997: Completed her master’s degree in Sports Administration.
2000: Became associate athletic director.
2015: Promoted to Deputy AD for Internal Operations; named one of the “top 10 Senior Woman Administrators” by College AD.
2017: Interim AD from June to September after Paul Krebs stepped down and until Eddie Nuñez was hired.
Next generation: Sons Leonard Jordan (LJ) and Alex both graduated from UNM and have continued graduate work at the university.