The University of New Mexico Lobos will be searching for a new men’s head basketball coach after the season’s end. Paul Weir will be stepping down after a very poor 2020-21 campaign.
New Mexico Lobos, Head Coach Paul Weir Agree to Split
Paul Weir came to the Lobos after spending 10 years as a coach for in-state rival New Mexico State. In his one stint as head coach of the Aggies, he took the program to the NCAA Tournament with a 28-6 record. Weir was hired as UNM’s head coach the following season. Since 2017, Weir has posted a below-average overall record of 58-61 as the leader of the Lobos. The team is 6-14 overall this season with a Mountain West Conference record of 2-14.
Weir told the press, “This is the perfect time for a transition in Lobo Basketball. I can’t imagine a more optimal epoch than now for all of us to embrace a fresh start.”
He also thanked UNM’s Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez, who in return said, “While this year has certainly been challenging for Coach Weir, his staff, and our student-athletes, after evaluating the overall program, it is the appropriate time for a new beginning. I want to thank Paul and his family for their commitment and service to New Mexico and we wish them the very best in the future.”
Of course, the state’s COVID restrictions greatly hindered both UNM and NMSU’s seasons. Still, it just wasn’t good enough. Weir is currently in the fourth year of his six-year contract and a buyout has been agreed upon. Originally asking for $700,000 over the final two seasons he won’t coach, both sides have settled on a total of $490,000. The buyout will be privately funded. Weir also still owes NMSU $275,000 for breaking his contract for the Lobos’ job. UNM will pay $100,000 of what is owed to NMSU.
New Mexico Athletics’ Issues
Nuñez has had just one other buyout during his tenure as athletic director. Bob Davie was let go as the football coach in 2019 and was owed $800,000. Before Davie, the previous athletic director, Paul Krebs, agreed to a $1 million buyout with Mike Locksley. Krebs also paid Craig Neal, Weir’s predecessor, $1 million.
However, Nuñez has had his own controversy surrounding New Mexico athletics. In 2018, the university dropped four programs, including men’s soccer and skiing, two of their most successful sports. This created a massive stir. Davie, who at the time held just a 30-45 record, was the highest-paid individual in the entire state. The head coach would go 5-19 his last two seasons.
Though UNM has had some decent football seasons, especially the years Brian Urlacher was their star, it has always been a basketball school.
New Mexico Basketball
The Lobos have a rich basketball history. Since 1968, the program has made the NCAA Tournament 15 seasons, going as far as the Sweet Sixteen twice. However, UNM was a nationally-recognized program from 1988-2013, primarily during Dave Bliss’ and Steve Alford’s respective tenures. Not to mention, The Pit was one of the toughest stadiums in the country for opponents to earn a win.
Under Bliss, the Lobos thrived. The head coach had a career 246-108 record and earned seven NCAA Tournament appearances. They were nationally-ranked on multiple occasions, reaching No. 8 in 1997-98. However, an ugly scandal ended Bliss’ career at UNM, and eventually Baylor.
After Fran Fraschilla and Ritchie McKay, Alford became the team’s head coach in 2007. With a .749 overall win percentage, Alford led the Lobos to three NCAA Tournaments, but the squad always underachieved under that level of pressure. Alford went 2-3 in the tourney. In 2010, the three-seed Lobos lost in the second round to six-seed Washington. They were a five-seed in 2012 and lost in the second round to four-seed Louisville. The next two seasons were the most devastating to fans. In 2013, as a three-seed, UNM, on some experts’ picks to reach the Final Four, was upset by 14-seed Harvard in the first round. After signing a 10-year extension, Alford jumped ship and headed for UCLA just 10 days after the agreement. Neal brought the Lobos back to the NCAA Tournament during his first year, but they were again upset. UNM, a seven-seed, lost to 10-seed Stanford.
Who Will Replace Paul Weir?
There is history to consider for UNM. They have now spent eight seasons trying to remain a relevant team but instead became a team in constant rebuild. There are trendy options with local ties to replace Weir such as Memphis Assistant Coach Cody Toppert and Lobos’ and Lakers’ icon Michael Cooper. That may bring more of the same, however. UNM is in need of an established coach to bring them back to the standard Albuquerque has become accustomed to. Here are five early candidates to consider.
Frank Martin has ties to Nuñez from their time in Miami. Nuñez has stated that he would prefer experience, so it’s a possibility considering Martin’s contract is up after the 2022 season. Since buyouts are trending at UNM, they could poach the coach early from South Carolina.
Miles would be a decent fit because he knows the Mountain West having coached at Colorado State. He also served as Nebraska’s head coach and made the NCAA Tournament with both the Rams and Cornhuskers.
Damon Stoudamire knows The Pit well having played at Arizona. He is in his fifth season as the head coach at Pacific, and last season the Tigers finished 23-10. Stoudamire hasn’t had a great overall record but has shown progress. Though the West Coast Conference has good teams, the Mountain West may be better across the board which will help with recruiting. Yet, his buyout would cost a lot; he is under contract at Pacific through the 2025-26 season.
Greg Marshall would be a risk because of his November resignation from Wichita State due to allegations of abuse. However, he was a finalist for the UNM job in 2007 before Alford was eventually selected for the spot. The estranged coach would have to do some mighty fine convincing during his interview. If he’s a changed man, that’s great, but the publicity may not be worth it for Nuñez. It may not be as bad as what Bliss did, though.
Kelly Graves is an interesting name. The Oregon women’s basketball coach has been very successful in leading the Ducks. He played for UNM in the ‘80s and also served as a grad assistant for the men’s program. He led the Gonzaga women to 10 consecutive WCC titles and some magical tournament runs. At Oregon, he rebuilt the program into a national powerhouse, reaching the Elite Eight and Final Four in 2018 and 2019, respectively. The question would be if his style could translate to the men’s side.
The New Mexico Lobos and Paul Weir have one remaining game scheduled for the regular season. They play Colorado State on March 3 before the MWC Tournament begins on March 10.
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