UNM AD Nuñez: Trip back to LSU is 'about our team' - Albuquerque Journal

UNM AD Nuñez: Trip back to LSU is ‘about our team’

Eddie Nuñez stands on the field at University Stadium prior to the Lobos’ win this past Saturday over UTEP. The University of New Mexico athletic director returns to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and LSU, where he once worked in athletics, with the Lobos for Saturday’s game. (Chancey Bush/Journal)

One of Eddie Nuñez’s first duties upon his start as the University of New Mexico’s athletic director on Aug. 31, 2017 was to secure a football game contract with his former employer, LSU.

Of course, there was much more work to do than to finalize a $1.6 million deal for the Lobos to play in Baton Rouge this Saturday.

Nuñez, and those close to him, now say he wasn’t given the full details of all the challenges his new job entailed. But five years later, while Nuñez celebrated with staff and UNM coaches at Albuquerque International Sunport on Monday to announce a new deal for a prominent Lobo presence at the airport, the athletic director said New Mexico has been the right place for him and his family.

He worked at LSU for 14 years in various roles and then saw UNM was the place for him.

“I was looking for a flagship institution,” he said. “I was looking for a program that can win and win at a high level. I knew it wasn’t just about if they were good at one sport. I wanted for us to compete for championships in all sports. There were programs out there that were good, but I wanted it to be right for me. We had a lot of challenges when I first arrived, more than I ever anticipated, more than I ever knew. The fact is, with all that, this was the right place for us, and it has been.”

Nuñez, 46, said he will always be fond of LSU and that Louisiana is a “special” place to him. He returns to the Bayou this weekend when the Lobos play against 31½-point favorite LSU on Saturday night.

He said he has a lot of good feelings about LSU because he learned so much while with the Tigers. LSU deputy athletic director Verge Ausberry, who was instrumental in finalizing the game contract, worked with the Tigers when Nuñez was there.

Eddie Nuñez is shown with an LSU pin on his jacket in this file photo from Sept., 3, 2011, when he was an assistant athletic director at LSU. On this day the Tigers beat Oregon on football 40-27 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (Courtesy of LSU Athletics)

“But honestly, going back, it’s about our football team, giving them an opportunity to be able to play, to be able to experience that and compete at the highest level,” Nuñez said.”That’s what they came here for. They want to be the best and we want to give them a chance to be the best and compete against the best. When we go to these places everyone always asks: Why do we go to the Wisconsins of the world? The Texas A&Ms and the LSUs? Because we want our student athletes to compete at the highest level.”

Not long after Nuñez secured the deal for UNM on Jan. 24, 2018 – $250,000 of that was paid by the end of June – he had to deliver the news to then-coach Bob Davie that he was suspended for 30 days following multiple investigations into alleged misconduct within the football program.

“Eddie doesn’t even know the guy, hasn’t even really had a chance to work with the guy,” said Danny Gonzales, who is in his third year as UNM’s football coach. “So that relationship is sabotaged from the day Eddie gets here, in your premiere sport for money. … He has a terrible start from the beginning. He fought through that.”

After Gonzales was hired in December of 2019 – not much later, his mentor Rocky Long was added to the staff – the athletic department was gaining great momentum, the football coach said, and Nuñez concurred. But then the coronavirus pandemic struck in March of 2020.

That’s when Nuñez showed great resiliency and leadership, Gonzales said.

“He did his job to best invest the UNM athletic department to have a chance to stay competitive against the rest of FBS and major men’s and women’s basketball,” Gonzales said.

“On top of that he created an environment for the Olympic sports to flourish and win conference championships. … It’s unbelievable what he’s done in his short time because he’s a great leader, because he’s positive, because the answer is never ‘no,’ it’s “let’s figure it out.’ If we can’t do it then we can’t do it. But it’s never: ‘We’re New Mexico, we can’t do that.’ It’s ‘OK, let’s figure it out.’

“That’s gonna give him the chance to be successful at every Power Five opportunity he has.”

Rumors surfaced that he was in line for the AD job at Miami, his hometown, in late November of 2021. Before that, he had already extended his contract through June 2025.

After the spring of 2020 and through 2021, Nuñez credited staff and coaches, yet under his leadership a league-high six Mountain West Conference titles were won in women’s cross country, women’s basketball, women’s soccer, women’s golf, men’s golf and men’s tennis.

He has a feather in his cap with the new deal with Sunport. It’s a non-monetary agreement that includes UNM merchandise in the retail stores. The airport will have ads at football games at University Stadium and basketball games at the Pit.

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