Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
The man behind the podium quoted a Greek philosopher and refused to don the traditional cherry red blazer because he “hadn’t earned it yet.”
It was not your usual Lobo coaching announcement – which shouldn’t be a surprise given the bizarre circumstances leading up to it.
A chaotic 11-day national search started with an 11th-hour firing; continued with a search committee traveling around the Southwest, interviewing a handful of candidates; and, meanwhile, leaving onlookers unsure who was calling the shots.
And then the Lobos eventually found their man right down the road in Las Cruces.
Paul Weir, the 37-year-old Toronto native and first-year head coach of the New Mexico State Aggies who set a program record with 28 wins and an NCAA Tournament appearance, was introduced Tuesday afternoon as the 21st head coach of the UNM men’s basketball team.
“There’s going to be a lot questions about me. I totally get it,” Weir said Tuesday, acknowledging not only the unprecedented move in this state of hiring away the rival school’s head coach but of the Lobos taking a chance on a candidate with so little head coaching experience.
“I was a one-year head coach. I’m coming from New Mexico State. I’m a little bit unknown. But I’m well aware what I’m stepping into. The Greek philosopher Atticus once said, ‘Every doubter is a dreamer with a broken heart.’ I think there’s some broken hearts around here that is my job (now) to go pick up.”
Weir accepted an unusual six-year deal with his salary growing from $625,000 in his first season to $825,000 by 2022-23. He replaces Craig Neal, who was fired March 31 after four years and a salary of $950,000 annually. Neal is owed a $1 million buyout to be paid over the next 24 months.
Weir, who was making a base salary of $250,000 at NMSU, owes either a $375,000 or $500,000 buyout to NMSU, depending on legal interpretation of the years remaining on the deal.
Athletic director Paul Krebs made it a point to say that it is on Weir to pay, not UNM. Weir concurs.
After four initial candidates were interviewed last week by a committee that included Krebs, Vice President David Harris, deputy athletic director Janice Ruggiero and Board of Regents President Rob Doughty, the Lobos turned their focus to Weir on Friday.
Krebs said UNM interviewed four candidates starting April 2, and did not contact Weir until just this Friday. He insists that wasn’t a sign of disliking the initial candidates or a lack of interest on their part, but about keeping Weir out of the process as long as possible because of the difficulties it would create for Weir at NMSU if it became known he was interested in leaving for a rival school.
“Maybe I wasn’t on their first list of candidates, but in time, gave it a shot, and when we all went head to head, I think I was the best one,” Weir said.
Krebs and Doughty said Weir blew them away in their interview and all were on board with his hire at the end.
There were questions about the political influence on the hiring process and whether Krebs was actually calling the shots on whom to hire. While it’s unusual at most schools for a university regent to sit in on interviews, UNM has done it before. For example, Regent Jack Fortner sat in on the interview for UNM football coach Bob Davie.
“I never felt any political influence,” Krebs said. “I never heard from anybody from Santa Fe. I never talked to anyone from Santa Fe. There was good, healthy dialogue from the people on the committee. When you have really talented people on the committee and in the room (making decisions), we didn’t necessarily see eye to eye all the time, but there was good healthy dialogue, and in the end we came out in the right place.”
Weir spent nine years as the assistant at NMSU under Marvin Menzies, who left to coach UNLV last April.
Weir said he hasn’t yet decided if any current Lobo assistant coaches will be retained.
Neal and Weir met when Neal was a scout with the Toronto Raptors. Weir later used that connection to land a job on the Iowa Hawkeyes staff with Neal and former Lobos head coach Steve Alford from 2005-07.
Last April, when Weir took the NMSU job, Neal said he was happy for his friend.
“Couldn’t be more excited for Paul’s opportunity at New Mexico State,” Neal texted. “I knew that he had the ability to become a head coach one day when working together at Iowa! He is a great recruiter and even better X and O coach. So happy for him. He is one of my favorite people in the business.”
Weir expressed thanks for his time (more than a decade ago) at Iowa with Alford and Neal, but he pointed out he is his own man and own coach.
And there was no donning of the cherry blazer at his introductory press conference as in past UNM hires.
“They wanted me to wear the red blazer,” Weir said when handed the bright red blazer still on a hanger. “I told them I hadn’t earned it yet. That’s for me to do now. I’ve got to find a way to win some games.”
This past year, working in a financially strapped athletics department, Weir got his team to buy into a workmanlike, chip-on-their-shoulder approach.
The season Weir put together with NMSU created some buzz in Albuquerque and nationally. His team beat UNM in Las Cruces for the first time in eight years and won a true road game at a Power 5 school (at Pac-12’s Arizona State) for the first time in more than 20 seasons while stringing together a 20-game win streak. The Aggies finished second in the Western Athletic Conference and won the league tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament. Weir joined Lou Henson as the only NMSU rookie head coach to take the Aggies to the Big Dance.
Krebs is a member of the NCAA selection committee and was in Glendale, Ariz., for the Final Four when Neal was fired. He was around hundreds of coaching candidates from across the country and said initial interest for the job was higher now than when he hired Alford in 2007 or Neal in 2013. He conducted several preliminary interviews with candidates before returning to Albuquerque after the national championship game April 3. He held a press conference in Albuquerque on April 4 saying resources wouldn’t be a factor in the search.
Family: Wife Alma, a Las Cruces native, and son Theodore, 2
High school career: All-star point guard and team captain at Iona Catholic Secondary School
College playing career: York University in 1998-99, where he started as a point guard
Academics: Bachelor’s degree, York, 2004; master’s degrees in health and human performance (Northwestern State, 2005), sports psychology (Iowa, 2010), business administration (New Mexico State, 2012). Pursuing a Ph.D. in educational leadership.
2001-03: Head coach, Don Bosco Catholic High
2004-05: Assistant, Northwestern (La.) State
2005-06: Director of basketball operations, Iowa
2007-2016: Assistant coach, New Mexico State
2016-17: Head coach, New Mexico State