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UNM turns focus to NMSU’s Weir as drama around coaching search mounts

And you thought the drama of Lobo basketball ended when the final game of the season was played?

Not even close.

On Monday, the University of New Mexico dragged its rivals to the south into the spotlight.

After national reporters at Yahoo! Sports  and ESPN reported the Lobos advances toward Albuquerque native and San Antonio Spurs assistant James Borrego had been shot down, twice, UNM shifted its coaching search  to New Mexico State first-year head coach Paul Weir.

“On Friday at 4 p.m., I received a call from a representative from the UNM athletic program,” said NMSU athletic director Mario Moccia. “It was a courtesy call about Paul Weir.”

Moccia did not elaborate on what he knows of the current status of the talks.

Two other sources confirmed to the Journal that talks with Weir were ongoing Monday, but as of early evening an offer had not been extended.

Weir did not return messages left by the Journal on Monday.

The 37-year-old Weir made $250,000 in base salary this past year as a rookie head coach for the Aggies. NMSU set a program record with 28 wins and played in the NCAA Tournament after winning the Western Athletic Conference Tournament in March. Weir took over at NMSU for Marvin Menzies after being an NMSU assistant for nine seasons.

Before that, he worked on the staff at Iowa under Steve Alford and Craig Neal. UNM fired Neal on March 31 after four seasons. Neal made $950,000 in base salary and compensation this past season with the Lobos.

Weir’s buyout at NMSU is half his base salary for the remainder of his contract. Weir just received an automatic extension through the 2021 season due to winning the WAC Tournament, meaning the buyout owed NMSU would be $500,000.

The news of Weir and UNM talking was first reported by ESPN’s Jeff Goodman. Goodman earlier said Borrego and UNM were again talking about the job, then weren’t. Other rumored candidates, Joe Dooley of Florida Gulf Coast, Steve Forbes of Eastern Tennessee State and Scott Cross of UT-Arlington were not talking, either, he reported.

“New Mexico’s second swing at Spurs assistant James Borrego also come up short. He’s out — so is Dooley, Forbes and Scott Cross — for now,” Goodman wrote.

That was after Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Sunday night said Borrego shot down the Lobos advances in a tweet to his 1.7 million Twitter followers.

The Journal also confirmed from multiple sources the uncertainty of finances at UNM and who is actually calling the shots on the coaching search has made the rounds around the college basketball world. Athletic director Paul Krebs has said there was a lot of interest in the job and resources wouldn’t be a factor in finding the right candidate.

Krebs has repeatedly said he wanted to hire a recent or sitting Division I coach, a profile Borrego doesn’t fit.

But while no one is saying Gov. Susana Martinez is involved, some with familiarity in the interview process have expressed concerns that politics are involved.

Borrego’s father-in-law Paul Kennedy is a contract attorney for Martinez. Board of Regents President Rob Doughty, who is involved in the process, is an appointee of Martinez.

On March 30, when the Journal asked the governor about the possible firing of Neal, a spokesman responded:

“The governor has always been a strong supporter of athletics at every New Mexico university and trusts each university to do what’s best for their own institutions.”

Neither Doughty nor Krebs will talk about the search details.

The Journal asked Krebs multiple questions Monday via email about the status of the Borrego talks and the perception that the search thus far has not gone as planned.

“I am happy to address these questions at the press conference announcing our new coach,” Krebs wrote in an email.

The Naples (Fla.) Daily News posted a story Monday highlighting the uncertainty surrounding the search as it related to Dooley, with the headline: “FGCU men’s basketball coach Joe Dooley to UNM speculation runs gamut.”

The final three paragraphs seem to sum up what many have thought about the process:

“This all might have been just too much for Dooley — who has a loaded roster for next season— to deal with.

“Or perhaps Krebs scratched him off his list.

“Or maybe he’s the frontrunner.”