ALBUQUERQUE — If there’s anything Paul Weir dislikes more than sloppy play from his point guard, it might be staring into his closet and burning brain cells trying to figure out what to wear.
The University of New Mexico men’s basketball coach doesn’t see himself as an icon of fashion. In his first season with the Lobos last year, he dropped 20 pounds between the season opener and the meat of the Mountain West Conference race and was forced to scrap his well-tailored business suits in favor of a V-neck red sweater, dress slacks and nondescript gray running shoes.
The Lobos won their first two games with the sweater and just like that, a fashion statement was born.
Fast forward to this past week when UNM invited the local media in for a sneak peak at his 2018-19 club. Rest assured, the red sweater will be back.
“I read something about a year ago on Steve Jobs and, I don’t know if you remember, but Jobs wore the same thing every day,” Weir said. “Black turtleneck and jeans. Never shaved his face. All this was in some business magazine or something like that, and the author asked him why he did it. His answer is that it just saves him time. He doesn’t worry about what he’s going to wear every morning.”
Makes sense. Weir took the idea and ran with it.
After all, Albert Einstein famously did the same thing in his later years, wearing the same suit day after day — as does Mark Zuckerberg these days with his familiar gray T-shirt and Jim Harbaugh and with his pleated khakis.
The less time spent worrying about clothes, the more time a person has to concentrate on other things. Like making New Mexico a basketball state once again, like turning The Pit into a place as fearsome as its reputation.
“So last year when I started wearing the sweater I was kind of like, this is awesome,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about tie combos and this and that. Like, coaches don’t need to think about stuff like that. You shouldn’t have to go to the dry cleaners and think about what suits go together, so I started thinking and was like, you know, at some point I’m going to do this.”
Voila. The red sweater was born and the well-tailored suits were outta here.
“I mean, why should I have to worry about what $5,000 suit to wear?” he said. “I don’t want to do that anymore.”
His latest thing is a tuft of facial hair, a light dusting of 5 o’clock shadow that seems to fit nicely with the whole take-it-or-leave-it approach to appearances.
It’s just another reason fans are starting to scrape the frost off their wounded Lobo hearts and slowly warming up to the idea that New Mexico basketball is the source of pride and success it used to be.
Truth is, expectations for this team are as high as they’ve been since former coach Craig Neal — a card-carrying member of the $5,000 suit with expensive cuff links and starched collars — entered his first year at the helm in 2013-14.
Even with the season-ending injury to guard JaQuan Lyle, UNM is primed and ready for a run at a conference title and potential postseason bid.
Asked to gaze into their crystal ball and talk about where the Lobos will find themselves in mid-March, a number of players said the sky is the limit for a team with all kinds of potential.
“I know coaches don’t like to talk about stuff like this, but I see us in the middle of something really big,” said senior guard Anthony Mathis.
“I can see us in the [NCAA] tournament, I’m not going to lie,” said sophomore center Vladimir Pinchuk. “We had a good year last year and now we’re bigger and have more players that can play inside. This can be a good year for us.”
At the heart of it all is Weir, a coach who would much rather make it about the program than any one player or even himself. Like it or not, he’s becoming the face of the state’s most beloved team and he’s well aware of his role in helping Lobo basketball become what it once was.
“I think people are starting to come back, at least I hope they are,” he said. “The ticket sales are up and whenever I run into people I’m hearing good things. It’s those casual fans who’ve loved us in the past and have maybe stayed away for one reason or another — it’s those fans we need to start winning back because it’s those fans who make us great. There are a lot of them out there, I think, and hopefully if we continue to do things the right way, maybe we can set the kind of example that gets them back through our front doors to support us.”
If and when that time comes, Weir’s red sweater, slacks and sneakers — think a refined, scaled-down version of Bobby Knight — will be waiting for them.
“I’m going to be honest,” he said, “If I thought it was something that got people talking then I might not do it, but for me it’s a comfort thing that allows me to put my mind on other things. For us, that’s about turning this thing around and hopefully winning basketball games.”
Lyle underwent surgery on his injured Achilles tendon Monday morning. He took to Twitter to announce that everything went well and he is on the road to recovery. Lyle went down on just the second day of official preseason workouts, rupturing the tendon in a non-contact move that came a full year after the 6-foot-5 guard transferred to UNM after two seasons as a starter at Ohio State. … The Lobos’ football game against Fresno State at Dreamstyle Stadium now has a start time and TV location. Kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m. in front of a national audience on ESPNU. UNM is coming off a 50-14 win at UNLV over the weekend and heads to Colorado State this Saturday.
Cherry & Silver Game, 6 p.m. Oct. 19 in The Pit
Tickets: $2 for adults
Info: Fans attending this event will be given a ticket to the following day’s football game against Fresno State.