Good riddance, Greg Heiar.
It was two months too late, though.
All it took was a brawl, a shooting involving one of its players and hazing allegations for New Mexico State University to finally come to its senses and dismiss the 11-month head coach of its successful, if not storied, men’s basketball program.
Suffice it to say, Heiar shouldn’t be allowed to board a plane unattended in coach, much less lead a sports team at any level after this major fiasco.
From the time he took over the program last March until his overdue firing Tuesday, all Heiar did was sully the program’s name.
He took a program that was considered one of the better mid-majors that was close to making the Sweet 16 in last year’s NCAA Tournament and turned into a laughingstock — all by doing the one thing a coach shouldn’t do.
Heiar simply turned a blind eye to his players. The rest is history.
Because of his indifference to being a caretaker of young men, he came perilously close to taking NMSU athletic director Mario Moccia with him. Moccia can’t be faulted for hiring Heiar. He did win the junior college national title at Northwest Florida State. He was a part of some successful coaching staffs at Wichita State (which reached the Final Four in 2013), LSU (it won the SEC regular season title and advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2018-19) and Southern Mississippi (the Golden Eagles made the NCAA Tournament in his final year in 2010-11).
But a closer inspection should have raised red flags. Several of the head coaches he assisted encountered scandals.
Greg Marshall left Wichita State amid allegations of verbal and physical abuse by players after Heiar left. The same thing happened to former Southern Miss head coach Larry Eustachy when he was at Colorado State in 2018, plus he left Iowa State in a mess amid NCAA rules violations and holding beer parties with students.
Will Wade was suspended during the Tigers’ Sweet 16 run amid a variety of recruiting infractions, chief of which was providing impermissible payments to players or to people associated with them.
It seems Heiar adopted some of those bad habits and went about putting a stamp on his own sordid career:
- Players were involved in a brawl with University of New Mexico students during a Lobos-Aggies football game in October in Las Cruces.
- The shooting involving NMSU player Mike Peake that followed a month later was a direct result of the fight.
- The hazing allegations that surfaced last week ended the Aggies’ tumultuous season.
In a vacuum, those incidents on their own reflect poorly on a program and its coach. Put them together, and it gives the appearance of a coach exerting little to no control over his players. Perhaps what truly hurt Heiar more than anything was Heiar’s reaction to those incidents.
The old adage goes that character is what you do when no one is watching.
In the hours after the shooting, Heiar’s initial action wasn’t to assist the police in every way possible in its investigation and prepare for the inevitable fallout. It was to try running — as fast as a charter bus can — back to Las Cruces.
Heiar’s body language in videos of his interview with state police showed a man who was in over his head and acting on instinct.
He was running away from the brewing storm instead of facing it — even though he probably knew it was coming for him anyway.
This is where Moccia and NMSU fumbled an opportunity to do the right thing. Heiar needed to learn right then his actions were unacceptable as a university employee, much less one is among the highest paid on campus. A suspension — for a couple of games, at the very least — was needed.
If Heiar had learned his lesson then, maybe he would have had a chance to redeem himself and stop the hazing that was allegedly happening under his nose. Instead, he was allowed to think that walking away from a problem and thinking it would go away was the appropriate path.
That was merely the path of least resistance.
Nobody should be shocked Heiar lawyered up when faced with talking to NMSU investigators. It followed a pattern of throwing all that he could under the bus to save his hide.
In the end, Heiar succumbed to the same kind of hubris that felled the men under whom he worked during much of his collegiate career.
His actions were those of a man who thought he could get away with it because he was a Division I basketball coach.
The problem was, he didn’t have the currency that Marshall, Eustachy and Brady had. In short, Heiar didn’t win enough to save his own hide.
If anything, what happened at NMSU can happen just about anywhere in the country. This is the price of big-time collegiate athletics, where the chasing of millions of dollars will influence administrators and coaches to do things the rest of the country would consider unfathomable.
Like hire Greg Heiar after this debacle.
He might be gone from NMSU, but who’s to say his actions won’t be forgotten — and forgiven — somewhere else?