Copyright 2017 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)
While it's easy to grouse about "the $1 million buyout" the University of New Mexico will pay to sever ties with head basketball coach Craig Neal, it could have been more expensive in the long run to keep him at the helm. After all, a vortex of declining ticket sales and player defections, as the Journal reported last week, has been swallowing Lobo basketball for two seasons.
While many will debate the buyout, the fact is Lobo supporters demand a winning program and have made UNM's basketball coach, at $950K a year, the state's highest-paid employee to get it.
Negotiations went up to the literal 11th hour. If Neal had not been fired by midnight Friday, his new contract would have kicked in and UNM would have owed him another $300,000. And UNM can ill afford to pay a dime more than it is forced to. The university is facing a potential $10 million shortfall in the main campus instruction and general budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and it cannot afford to bail out its struggling athletic department. Athletic director Paul Krebs has pledged that the buyout money, which will be paid half this year and half the next year, will be covered by the athletics department.
Let's hope so. The school should not be cutting academic programs to cover athletic department struggles.
So, just before midnight, Paul Krebs and UNM decided that, in the long run, it was cheaper to let Neal go than watch the vortex suck in more players and sour more fans. The next million-dollar question is whether his replacement can reverse the tide quickly enough to satisfy fickle Lobos fans - and how much that's likely to cost both now and if things don't go well.
As for Neal, you may not agree with his coaching decisions or style, but he has dedicated the past 10 years of his life to Loboland. We wish him well wherever he lands.
Read More of Today's AB Headlines
Subscribe to Our Daily E-Newsletter