The price tag for the firing of Craig Neal, at least in terms of that $1 million buyout to be paid out over 24 months, has been a hot topic around cash-strapped University of New Mexico the past month.
But it would appear the process to hire his replacement— former New Mexico State head coach Paul Weir — was kept relatively cost effective, at least when compared to other search processes in recent years by college athletics.
According to records provided to the Journal through an Inspection of Public Records Act request, UNM spent about $8,600 for travel, lodging and meals for interviews April 6-8 in Las Vegas, Nev., conducted by the university’s four-person search committee and five coaching finalists — Weir, East Tennessee State coach Steve Forbes, San Antonio Spurs assistant James Borrego, UT-Arlington coach Scott Cross and Florida Gulf Coast coach Joe Dooley.
On April 6, UNM athletic director Paul Krebs flew to Las Vegas, along with Executive Vice President for Administration David Harris, deputy athletic director Janice Ruggiero and Board of Regents President Rob Doughty. The interview process, Krebs and other ADs have said, is often done at a site away from campus and often in another city or state so as not to compromise the candidates who all had other jobs.
The flight costs of the UNM contingent was $2,599.84. The air costs for the five finalists was $4,108,53. Lodging for the three days was $1,755.37. Other costs included meals — none reviewed by the Journal exceeded $50 — a rental car and other miscellaneous expenses in Las Vegas.
Krebs also did some initial interviewing and conversations with candidates in Phoenix and Glendale, Ariz., on the weekend of the Final Four, but incurred no costs to the university for those as he was there as a member of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Committee.
UNM did not use a search firm for the hiring process, something that has become vogue in recent years in college athletics.
“The goal of the search was to get the very best fit for the men’s basketball program first and foremost,” Krebs said. “But, with my involvement in the men’s search committee, I felt like we had access to all the information and all the resources needed to conduct the thorough search we did.”
Krebs said he felt his contacts on that board — one that has contact information and access to all athletic directors and conference offices in the country — gave him all the access and information needed to conduct the search that, eventually, stopped with the 37-year-old Weir.
Some search firms charge for involvement in finding football coaches and athletic directors six-figure sums while college basketball searches can often easily reach $50,000. Employing firms just for background checking sometimes can get into the $15,000 to $20,000 range Krebs said. And all that is before the interviews themselves.
In 2011, UNM’s fellow Mountain West member Colorado State spent a reported $320,000 with the search firm Spencer Stuart when it replaced football coach Steve Fairchild with Jim McElwain. Just last month, the University of Missouri paid $80,000 to Parker and Parker Executive Search when it hired Cuonzo Martin as its head coach.
“I felt we could handle the process in house,” Krebs said, referring not only to the identification and contacting of candidates, but also the vetting and background checks needed for such high-dollar hires. Weir’s initial season base salary and compensation package is for $625,000, which will make him the state of New Mexico’s second-highest paid public employee behind only UNM football coach Bob Davie.
The UNM administrators stayed at the SouthPoint hotel, and three of the candidates did as well. Two others were in and out of Nevada in the same day.
On April 6, UNM flew Borrego to Las Vegas from San Antonio, Texas, for his interview. The Albuquerque Academy graduate stayed the night and flew back to Dallas on April 7, where the Spurs were to play the Dallas Mavericks.
On April 7, Forbes, Dooley and Cross each were interviewed. Both Forbes (on April 6) and Dooley (on April 7) stayed the night in Las Vegas.
Weir, who said he was not contacted by UNM at all about their interest in him for the job until around 4 p.m. on April 7, flew to Las Vegas from El Paso at 7 a.m. April 8 and flew out of Las Vegas at 2:15 p.m. His return flight went through Los Angeles and he didn’t arrive back in El Paso until 8:45 that night.