By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
The search is on.
A search firm might not be.
On Saturday, University of New Mexico athletic director Eddie Nuñez spent nearly an hour on a Zoom teleconference call with media to discuss the process of finding a new Lobo basketball coach. On Friday, fourth-year Lobo head coach Paul Weir agreed to a buyout and will be out after the season.
These are some of the topics from the teleconference:
Will there be a search committee? “This is one of the areas in my past I want use for our benefit here. Having a basketball background, (being) a former coach in Division I (a player and assistant under Billy Donovan at Florida), I have a lot of resources that I can utilize and already have.
“I’m fortunate to have a lot of individuals in this department who have a basketball background as well.
(Both UNM Deputy AD David Williams and Sr. Associate AD Ed Manzanares are former college basketball coaches).
“It’s going to be a very tight process. There’s not going to be a lot of individuals involved. If I do have to go with a search firm or consultant, it’s more for the administrative side for background checks.”
What is his criteria? “Number one, is character and integrity. Someone we are hopeful can build what we all expect of Lobo basketball
“Second is player development. Can they develop players on and off the court, and in life? One of the major challenges is with COVID. They’re going to need somebody who’s not going to just help them get better basketball-wise, but help prepare as individuals.
“Third: cultural fit. UNM is unique. Every day I’m here, (I see) how unique UNM is. (First-year Lobo football coach and Albuquerque native) Danny (Gonzales) has shown those things. But I’m not going to hire somebody just because they’ve been here. I’m not going to hire somebody because they played here …. The fact is, do they understand the expectations; how to communicate, the pressure that this job can be? And community investment.
“And this is a small one, but very important; who are their mentors, who are their advisers? People they reach out to? We all need people we can rely on, but it helps more and more to have people to lean on.”
Nuñez has reportedly said his athletic department could lose $10 million this fiscal year. Is there a financial figure he is working with? “Not at this point. We’re going to start off … we are assessing. We’ve got financial challenges, that we all know about. But we also have to figure out where the market value is and where we are and where we plan to be.
“I want to get get creative when it comes to contracts, opportunities. It might be something more backloaded, but with expectations.
What’s his timeline? “As fast as we can, but doing what it takes to do it right. I’m strongly leaning on individuals with head coaching experience, or currently are head coaches. But I’m not going to say I’m never going to hire an assistant coach. I’m going to look at everybody and see if they fit what we’re looking for here.
“I’m not going to put myself in a corner.”
Enchantment Sports has confirmed that Nuñez has been contacted about other athletic director jobs in recent months. We asked him if he was concerned that would come into play during interviews with coaching candidates. “That’s a great question, and I appreciate you asking that question. That’s asked quite a bit. People say, ‘He’s not going to be here, he’s not going to be here.’
“Danny (Gonzales) and I had a very candid conversation when we went through that process. He asked me, ‘Look man, I know you’re going to be up (for a job).’
“But what I’m trying to find is a coach who’s going to be here for the program, not for me. It’s bigger than Eddie Nuñez, it’s bigger than everybody else in this department. I need somebody who’s going to embrace the culture, embrace the other coaches on the staff, the community.
“And so for me, I tell them firsthand, ‘Look, I don’t know how long I’m going to be here. Heck, they could fire me tomorrow. It’s out of my control if I’m going to be here or not.’
I know there’s going to be interest (in Nuñez). Has there been interest? Yes, candidly there has been. I’m very honest with my coaches and my staff. And at any point, if it gets to a point like that, then I’m going to be honest with them and let them know where the situation stands with me.
“Any coach coming in, I’m going to tell them the same thing. I’m planning to be here as long as the university wants me to be here and as long as we’re having an opportunity to be great, continuing to compete for championships; academically doing what we’re doing.
“If we’re doing all those things, then this is an unbelievable place to be. So I’m committed to UNM. I’m committed to being in Albuquerque and New Mexico. But I’m also not sitting here saying I’ll never look at something. Again, as quick as I could look at something, somebody could fire me tomorrow. It’s about finding the right person for being for UNM. Point blank.
“I’m not here for me, and to get something added to my resume. It’s about who can compete for championships, but not just win. To win with class and integrity and everything else. But not to just win games. We want to win championships.”
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for more than four decades, and is one of the most decorated sports journalists in state history. Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio and has been honored nationally for investigative reporting. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.