The best part of any coaching vacancy is the reckless speculation it affords the casual fan. Hiring the right candidate is up to others; playing the wish list game is up to the people who sit in the cheap seats.
With at least two games left in the Paul Weir era, let’s throw a few names on the wall and see what sticks. Last time we tried this it actually worked, when LoboNation was anticipating the demise of then-football coach Bob Davie, and one of the names pulled from the hat was some guy named Danny Gonzales.
A couple of years later, Danny G is the most popular coach in the state.
First, a little background. UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez is a Miami guy with deep roots in the Southeastern Conference. He played college ball at Florida and spent time working in sports administration at Vanderbilt and, most notably, LSU.
What’s more, two of his top lieutenants at UNM are basketball guys. Deputy athletic director Dave Williams is credited with hiring Craig Smith when the two were together at South Dakota. Smith is now the celebrated coach of Utah State who’s sitting on a $5.025 million, six-year contract. Associate AD Ed Manzanares was once the youngest head coach in Division II at New Mexico Highlands.
Nuñez said he’d prefer a candidate with prior head coaching experience, to which we say, “Nah.” Gonzales was never a head coach and it didn’t stop him.
Here we go…
No opening at UNM can be filled without someone beating the drum for men like Tony Benford (TCU assistant coach), Tim Floyd (former NBA coach with time at USC and UTEP) and Michael Cooper (Lobo royalty).
Benford is from Hobbs and is a former Lobo assistant who, like Coop, has had some of the new-car smell as a possible Lobo leader dissipate over the years. Both feel like retreads who are fun to talk about but not viable enough to take much further.
Same, too, for Floyd, who famously succeeded Phil Jackson with the post-Jordan Chicago Bulls but later stepped aside from a gig at USC when he was accused of possible NCAA violations.
It’s doubtful any of these names would inspire Lobo fans to come out of hiding.
Nuñez played for Billy Donovan at Florida. Donovan, of course, has had a measure of success in the years since, winning two national titles with the Gators and taking them to the Final Four on four occasions. Oh, and the whole NBA thing? Might be hard for UNM to convince him to leave Chicago and his $6 million annual deal for $700K to live in ‘Burque.
Same goes for James Borrego, the Albuquerque native who was memorably hailed as UNM’s new coach on Twitter by a pair of unnamed local media types in 2017. Sorry, James, but Weir got the job and you, for what it’s worth, appeared to land on your feet by being named the head coach of the Charlotte Hornets less than a year later.
Add another name to this list; Anthony Grant. Nuñez casually name-dropped his longtime mentor during a Saturday news conference explaining Weir’s exit, a move that sent the assembled media scrambling to Google to find out who he was. He’s the head coach at Dayton but was a Florida assistant to Donovan when Nuñez was a Gator.
Nuñez made it perfectly clear: Grant is not a candidate for the Lobos’ job which, if we’re being real, means you’d be out of your mind to scratch his name off the list. Nuñez is a master at misdirection.
Look, you broke up with your ex and you’ve both moved onto other interests. Every now and then, though, you find yourself looking at old pictures, reading old texts and daydreaming of all the fond memories.
Lobo fans will forever scorn Steve Alford for leaving them high and dry, but the perfect-haired-one is still out there and he has a track record of breaking hearts. The head coach at Mountain West rival Nevada has made no attempt to hide his ongoing devotion to Albuquerque and The Pit.
Still have Steve’s number? Of course you do.
Since we’re on the subject, Craig Neal is still avai— ah, forget it. Don’t even go there.
If a big name is what you’re after, Frank Martin is a good place to start. He took South Carolina to the Final Four in 2017 and is still going strong with the Gamecocks.
His roots are in Miami where one of his star players, a 6-2 guard named Eddie Nuñez, got a ride from the coach to and from practice on most days.
Long shot? Try Hail Mary from the opponent’s 1 with snow on the ground and wind in your face.
Officially off the railSOne of Nuñez’s college teammates was none other than White Chocolate, Jason Williams.
The passing wizard was a human highlight reel (look him up on YouTube) and still remains in contact with Nuñez. It seems Williams never took to coaching but, hey, he sure was fun to watch and he’d probably have the Lobos doing no-look, over-the-shoulder bounce passes from half court.
Since UNM has raided New Mexico State’s cupboard before, why not again? Chris Jans picked up where Weir left off in AggieLand, except he’s still employed and still winning. Could lightning strike twice?
Gregg Marshall was a finalist for the UNM job that went to Alford in 2007.
Thing is, one of the requirements for this job is integrity and a clean record of service, elements that would make it awfully hard to overlook the messy end Marshall had at Wichita State. They sound an awful lot like the allegations leveled against Davie, and we all know how that turned out.
Dig deeper, you say? How about the former-star-returns-home approach? UNM could follow the model used by Memphis and Michigan and bring back a big name from the past, one with no coaching experience.
Hmm, how about J.R. Giddens (Northern New Mexico women’s coach), Kenny Thomas (Lobo royalty 2.0) or Tony Snell (currently in the NBA)?
Perhaps to a different route and try Kelly Graves, the Oregon women’s coach who played for Gary Colson’s post-Lobogate teams in the mid-1980s or, if we’re sticking with the whole Nuñez-roots-in-the-SEC thing, just about any coach with ties to that conference over the last 20 years.
Let the speculation begin.
Remember, right now this is the fun part.