LAS CRUCES – Paul Weir hasn’t thought about what it will be like for him taking the court Friday night for the first time as a Division I head coach.
And he doesn’t expect to Friday night either.
“My sole purpose in life right now is just making sure this team is the best it can be,” Weir said. “It’s not really about myself or my own personal reflections on things. People have asked me if I have soaked in the position and I really haven’t. I’m just trying to do the best for this team and this program. That’s really all I am thinking about going into Friday.”
Weir, who was an assistant under former NMSU head coach Marvin Menzies prior to being named Aggies head coach last April, makes his NMSU head coaching debut Friday as the Aggies open the 2016-17 season against NAIA Arizona Christian.
And there’s a lot of excitement from the fans to see Weir coach his first game. After Menzies left to take the UNLV head coaching position, Weir received tremendous support from the players, fans and students to be named NMSU’s head coach during the coaching search while players and fans started #WeirReady on Twitter. It was support that Weir didn’t ask for, but at the time was humbled and honored by.
“Hopefully in time I’ll make those people feel good about how they acted in those moments,” Weir said.
But for Weir, it’s been an incredible journey to get to where he is today. While he was a high school coach in Toronto, he never intended to be a college head coach. He got into United States college basketball when he was looking to go to graduate school and wrote more than 1,000 college basketball programs. Weir said he only heard from two or three out of those with one those being Northwestern State, where he would start on Mike McConathy’s staff as a graduate assistant.
“I just packed up my bags and left,” Weir said.
After a year at Northwestern State, Weir was hired to be on Steve Alford’s staff at Iowa, which also included current New Mexico coach Craig Neal as a Hawkeye assistant, and eventually landed in Las Cruces when Menzies was hired as the new Aggies’ coach in 2007. During his time in Las Cruces, Weir has led the Aggies’ defense, which was ranked in the top 10 in the nation last season and has been a staple for NMSU recently, been responsible for bringing in the Canadian talent and made the schedule on Menzies’ staff.
Weir said he learned from Alford, Neal and Menzies.
“Steve and Craig at Iowa for sure, learned a lot about the game of basketball,” Weir said. “I was in a very basketball oriented role (at Iowa), doing a lot of video and a lot of scouting. Just taking their notes out of the trash can. You name it, just trying to learn as much as I could from those guys. When I got to New Mexico State, it was kind of an opportunity to learn myself, kind of go out and do things and get better practically as opposed to theoretically. I think between those kind of two platforms, I was really able to develop as a coach.”
The idea of becoming a Division I head coach came a few years ago for Weir when those opportunities started to present themselves. He interviewed for the Maine opening a few years ago and was a finalist for the Texas-Rio Grande Valley head coaching position last spring before being named NMSU’s head coach.
“It became something that I obviously thought about,” Weir said. “I was just at a point where I wanted to make sure it was going to be the right choice for me and my career. I have obviously invested a lot of time and sacrificed a lot of things. I didn’t want to just become a head coach or work somewhere else as some kind of short term fix when long term it might not have been the best move.”
Weir has a tremendous amount of respect for NMSU’s history and in his introductory press conference, said it is now his duty to protect that legacy that dates back to the Aggies’ 1970 Final Four and Hall of Fame coach Lou Henson.
“I’ve kept up with him since he’s been here at New Mexico State,” Henson said about Weir. “I’ve observed his coaching and I think he’s an outstanding young coach. He’s smart, I’ve watched practices and he has tremendous discipline. That’s where you start. He’s a good fundamental coach and I think he’ll do a tremendous job for us.”
One of the first things Weir did was bring Henson on to his coaching staff as a special adviser. Weir routinely talks to Henson before and after practice and bounces ideas off of Henson, who attends practice.
“Coach has been amazing,” Weir said. “Even when we first kind of talked about (bringing him on staff) in theory, I never really probably understood how good he was. Now that he’s around every day and we’re talking before and after practice, he’s just such an amazing resource. I’m such a lucky person to have someone of his caliber to bounce ideas off of and get critical feedback from. And he’s so gracious, and successful and any other adjective you can think of. I consider myself really lucky to have someone of his profile next to me right now.”
Weir and Henson will have conversations about what Henson sees with the team, what Henson likes and doesn’t like and things maybe the Hall of Fame coach would do differently.
“We sit down, talk about how we can make some adjustments here and there,” Weir said. “Nine times out of 10 when I think about it at night, I think man, he’s exactly right. Just having that extra perspective of someone has been really valuable to me.
“To say I look to him would be understatement. He’s a mentor and someone to look up to on so many levels.”
As Weir begins his first season, one area he’s hit the ground running hard is increasing attendance. Last season’s average attendance of 4,768 was the second lowest in the program’s history. From Day 1, Weir has said increasing attendance is a big part of his job and season ticket sales for the 2016-17 season are so up from last season.
“I don’t know exactly where it’s going to go,” Weir said about season ticket sales being up. “I think it started off well. I think at this point, our team kind of has to do the rest. And that’s me and that’s our players going out, being the kind of team people want to see and being the kind of team people want to come and support more than anything else. I think as long as we can kind of convey that to people that either come to watch or people who interact with us, hopefully we’ll have more people come out to support us.”
Mark Rudi can be reached at 575-541-5455, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mrudi19.
If you go
What: New Mexico State men’s basketball season opener
Who: Arizona Christian (1-1) at NMSU (0-0)
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday
Where: Pan American Center
Online: NMStateSports.com (subscription required)
Radio: Zia Country 99.5 FM
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