The morning after a signature win by the New Mexico Lobos men’s soccer team, UNM coach Jeremy Fishbein and associate athletic director Kurt Esser sat in Seattle.
The reward for hard work, they decided, is more hard work.
The day before, the Lobos had beaten Washington to earn a trip to the 2013 College Cup, the second Final Four appearance in program history.
But somewhere in the back of his mind, amid the X’s and O’s, Fishbein thought about money.
That’s not a great revelation. Fishbein is constantly thinking about money.
“I can’t recruit a kid – I can’t ask a kid to give everything he’s got – if I’m not giving him every opportunity,” said Fishbein, who last week agreed to a two-year contract extension designed to keep him at UNM through 2019. He earns $107,969 a year in his current deal. His extension, announced by the school late Saturday, did not include a raise.
“When we talk about the budget stuff, rather than complaining, it’s finding ways to make it happen. That’s the commitment I’ve made to our guys. I’m not going to let our budget dictate their success for them. It’s not going to affect them.
“Now, does it affect me? Yeah, it affects me. That’s a lot of pressure hanging over your head. You have to bring in, from an operating standpoint, $70,000. I have to fund $70,000 to run the program at the level I feel gives them the best chance.
“Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that the athletic director, or another coach, would feel that money is necessary. And I don’t think any of it is extravagant. But that’s what top programs are doing for their students, and we have to match that.”
According to Equity in Athletics Data Analysis, the UNM men’s soccer operating expense for 2012-13 was about $179,000. That includes lodging, meals, transportation, uniforms, and equipment for coaches, team members and support staff. It does not include such items as salaries, scholarships and medical training costs. The number for Notre Dame, which beat UNM in the College Cup semis, was about $307,000. For Washington it was $253,000, and for College Cup participant Virginia it was $191,500.
“All of our sports are probably a little underfunded,” Esser said. “If we had more operating dollars, we’d assign chunks to the track and fields of the world, the soccers. We also look at their ability to fund-raise, and Jeremy has done a great job fundraising. He’s got a great profile in the community, and our team is doing well, so people are more apt to give.”
Fishbein has raised the $70,000 he feels he needs for this season’s program. But it wasn’t easy, and the fundraising never ends.
“If I’m going to coach here, I’m going to give the guys every chance,” said Fishbein.
“Jeremy is one of the most highly paid in the country,” Esser said. “We do focus on him. He’s done a good job. He deserves those types of things. And with great rewards comes great commitment.”
Fishbein has led UNM to the NCAA Tournament in 10 of his 12 seasons and to three straight Sweet 16 appearances.
“I’m really fortunate to have this job,” the coach said. “I’m not digging ditches. I’m paid well. I get to work with good guys, get to work with the community. It’s awesome.”
But only men’s basketball makes money at UNM. The Lobo men’s soccer team averaged 2,005 fans a game in 2013, 10th in the nation. But it costs more to run a game than the revenue it brings in, Esser said.
“As an athletic department, we don’t have tons of money,” Fishbein said. “There’s not a huge TV contract. There’s not tons of revenue sources. So, when you look at it from a rational standpoint, we’re blessed.
“But when you’re in there, and you start saying you’re very much judged on wins and losses, you very much want to push to have as big a budget as possible. We’re not always rational, I guess.”
Archie Garcia, who said he contributes to UNM soccer and the Lobo Club, feels the soccer team is underfunded.
“Instead of all the money going to football, I’d like to see more money allocated to the soccer program,” Garcia said.
Specifically, he would like a soccer-only stadium.
“The soccer program is deserving of a stadium, just like baseball has a stadium, football has a stadium and basketball has their own place,” Garcia said.
UNM plays its home games on a soccer field it shares with track and field, just east of University Stadium. A 3,000-seat, soccer-only stadium is among UNM’s long-term plans, Esser said, but a more immediate goal is to increase the travel budget.
The Lobos joined Conference USA last season, which means trips to places such as Old Dominion (in Norfolk, Va.), Alabama-Birmingham and South Carolina. And that doesn’t include nonconference games. Last year, UNM traveled to Washington to beat No. 11 Georgetown. The year before, the Lobos went to UCLA and beat the No. 1 Bruins.
“He’s been very proactive with how he schedules – very aggressive,” Esser said of Fishbein. “That’s a great thing. But it also does cost money.”
Fishbein, who interviewed for the head coaching job at FC Dallas of the MLS last year, said he feels so much ownership of the UNM program.
“I don’t know if that’s always a good thing,” Fishbein said. “I love it so much and feel such a responsibility, I don’t know any other way. I’m not going to take shortcuts. I can’t do it to our guys. I can’t do it to our fans. It becomes a bit of a curse at times.”
He says the positive side of fundraising – as much as he hates asking for money – is that it keeps him in touch with the community. He says he knows some coaches whose programs have plenty of money and, as a result, don’t get involved in their communities much.
It also helps him to be penny-wise.
“You go recruiting and you have to stay at a hotel,” Fishbein said. “Do you stay at a $100 hotel, or do you stay at a $50 hotel? If you stay at a $100 hotel, that’s $50 more dollars you’ve got to fund-raise. … If the guys lose some soccer balls, hey, we better find them, because if I have to buy five more, I’ve got to raise another $300.”
Thinking about money all the time takes it toll.
“It’s frustrating at times,” Fishbein said. “You get into this job because you want to spend the time with the guys. You want to be a coach. I’m well paid. But I probably spend more time being a businessman and a fundraiser than I would like.”
Fishbein is proud of the time his players spend in the community, and that they have had a 3.43 grade-point average the past two fall semesters. Eight of his players have earned academic All-America honors.
But he said most of the conversations he’s had this year start: “Hey, you had a great season. Now are you going to win it all next year?”
Fishbein expects the 2014 Lobos to be very good. He lost four seniors who signed pro contracts, but he’s got guys who have been waiting their turn and other guys coming in. Assistant coach Paul Souders, an integral part of the program, is back, with new contract incentives that encourage him to stay.
The only part of the job Fishbein hates is asking people for money. And he knows UNM doesn’t have more to give.
“I don’t know what’s possible,” Fishbein said. “Right now the athletic department doesn’t have access (to more) money. I think Paul Krebs is a great athletic director, a good businessman. If he had more money, he’d give it to us. …
“I’d love not to fund-raise. It would make my job completely different. But that’s the situation. Nobody’s forcing me to coach here. I’m not digging ditches. But at what point do you say, ‘It’s not what I want to do,’ or the stress of it overcomes the pleasure? I can’t answer you that right now.”