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In his own words: Craig Neal thanks New Mexico

Editor’s note: Former New Mexico men’s basketball coach Craig Neal submitted this letter to the Journal on Friday.

To My New Mexico Friends:

After taking several days to reflect and take care of my family, I want to take this opportunity to say “thank you” for giving me the amazing opportunity to be a coach for the Lobo basketball team. Ten years ago, Dr. Schmidly brought Coach Alford and I to New Mexico. You welcomed us and our families with open arms, and for that, I will be forever grateful. I was told that the best things about New Mexico are its people … and its green chile. Right on both accounts!

My wife and I moved here with sons who were just entering middle school. They grew up here, and this community has been our home. Over the past ten years, we’ve found New Mexico to be a wonderful place for children. They received an excellent education at our public schools, and we had a blast participating in things like little league baseball, AYBL, middle school and high-school basketball, YAFL, and local ROTC programs. Along the way, I met thousands and thousands of wonderful people and developed lifelong friendships that I will always cherish. Put simply, this is a great place to live and raise a family. So as I move on, while my heart is full of gratitude for what this community has given to me, I am especially grateful for what it has given to my children.

I am incredibly proud of what our players and coaches accomplished together during the past decade of Lobo basketball. I am blessed to have been a part of one of the most historic and successful stints in UNM’s basketball history. We aimed for excellence and often achieved it on the court, and we graduated young men from our program with the academic and life skills necessary to succeed beyond college. Both sides of the phrase “student-athlete” mattered to us. We set GPA records, we supported local reading programs for New Mexico children, and we ensured that our Lobos conducted themselves as positive role models for the countless kids who dream of one day playing at The Pit.

Speaking of The Pit, I truly believe that it is one of the most powerful venues in all of college sports. Every time I walked down the long ramp toward Bob King Court, I felt grateful and excited to be there. It’s an experience that is truly indescribable, and I will carry each of those long walks with me forever. I am proud that we won a championship in my first year and even prouder of how our teams represented New Mexico.

I want to thank Steve Alford who brought me here and has been both a mentor and great friend throughout. Without him, I never would have had this amazing opportunity. I thank Paul Krebs for giving me the opportunity to be our head coach and the UNM Board of Regents for their support. Thank you to the hundreds of community leaders, UNM athletics staff members and volunteers, fellow Lobo coaches of other sports, and local businesses who gave their time, talents, and money in support of our program. Thank you to Governor Martinez for her friendship and her passion for improving the lives of our state’s children. Thank you to the truly special, talented, and hard-working coaches and players we have had over the years, along with the families of players who entrusted us with their sons. And, thank you to the most passionate fan base in America — Lobo Nation.

I regret that, as head coach, we did not achieve all of our goals, but I promise that it was never due to a lack of effort, dedication, or passion for Lobo basketball and our players. Nevertheless, I believe in accountability and therefore accept responsibility.

New Mexico will always hold a special place in my heart and Lobo Basketball will be burned in my soul forever.

Thank you Lobo Nation and best wishes for success in the years ahead,

— Craig “Noodles” Neal

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