Copyright 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)
The University of New Mexico's baseball clubhouse was eerily quiet in June. Lobos head coach Ray Birmingham spent much of the month out recruiting and not only for new players. He had vacant coaches' offices to fill.
It was an awkward undertaking as June was the last official month of Birmingham's contract. He's now serving on a monthly extension while he and UNM's athletic department continue to negotiate a long-term deal.
Still, Birmingham managed to secure a new stable of assistants and feels good about his latest recruiting efforts. Brandon Higelin will serve as the Lobos' new pitching coach, Jon Coyne will take over as recruiting coordinator/infield coach, and Nate Causey has signed on as a volunteer coach who will work with the team's catchers.
"Very excited about these coaches," Birmingham said. "I've seen what they've done at other places, they all come highly recommended and I really believe they'll help us get moving in a positive direction again."
It's a complete staff replacement for Birmingham. Former assistant coaches Ken Jacome and Buddy Gould-smith were not retained after UNM's 20-33-1 finish in 2018. Jacome has since been hired as head baseball coach at Tucson's Pima Community College. Former Lobo Trey Porras, who served as a volunteer assistant last season, accepted an assistant's job at Texas' Wharton County Junior College.
The overhaul comes amid considerable uncertainty at UNM, with several head coaches nearing the end of their contracts and athletic department officials considering dropping sports to balance the budget.
However, UNM has recently invested heavily in its baseball facilities, including the $2.4 million R.D. and Joan Dale Hubbard Clubhouse which opened in 2016. Athletic director Eddie Nuñez could not be reached for comment Tuesday but repeatedly has said he hopes to retain Birmingham, 63, who has spearheaded fundraising efforts for facility upgrades.
Birmingham recently completed his 11th season with the Lobos under a contract that paid him $208,000 annually. He said he is seeking a three-year extension with a raise but declined to discuss specific figures, adding that he has exchanged offers with UNM in recent months. The two sides have yet to reach an agreement.
"I'd like to get it settled," Birmingham said. "I feel like everything's been in good faith, but not having a contract affects things. It affects recruiting and it especially affects fundraising. It's hard for me to ask for donations to finish the stadium when I'm not under contract. I feel like getting (a contract extension) done can be positive both for me and for UNM."
Birmingham said Nuñez approved his assistant-coaching hires, though terms of the paid assistants' one-year contracts have not yet been released. Here's a quick look at the coaches.
BRANDON HIGELIN: A native of Poway, Calif., Higelin played college baseball at Cal State Los Angeles and was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2005. He played four seasons of pro ball before becoming a private pitching instructor. He later served as pitching coach at Indiana in 2014 and at Arizona State in 2015-16. All three teams advanced to NCAA Regionals and posted impressive pitching numbers. Higelin was director of player development at Arizona last season.
JON COYNE: A Fort Worth native, Coyne played collegiately at Texas Pan American (now Texas Rio Grande Valley), where he later worked as a volunteer assistant coach. He has since spent two seasons as an assistant at Wichita State and two with junior college programs.
NATE CAUSEY: A Gilbert, Ariz., native, Causey played college baseball at Arizona State and spent three seasons as a catcher in the Colorado Rockies organization. He is a cousin of former Lobo and Seattle Mariners first-round pick D.J. Peterson.
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