Craig Neal out as UNM men’s basketball coach | KOB.com
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Craig Neal out as UNM men’s basketball coach

J.R. Oppenheim
April 01, 2017 06:34 PM

After four years at the helm, University of New Mexico Craig Neal has been relieved of his duties.

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UNM Athletics Department spokesperson Frank Mercogliano confirmed the news shortly after midnight Saturday. The official announcement from the university followed moments later.

In a statement, UNM Vice President for Athletics Paul Krebs expressed gratitude for the service Neal gave to the program. A search for a replacement will begin immediately, he said.

“He led us to a Mountain West Tournament championship as head coach and his guidance and leadership of student-athletes off the court should be highlighted,” Krebs said. “Lobo Basketball set records for GPA, graduating players, and Coach Neal ran a program that the community can be proud of. He's a good man and a winning coach, but the time has come to move Lobo Basketball in a new direction."

Amid growing player departures and growing discontent from fans, UNM reversed course on the decision to keep Neal. Krebs said in March that Neal would return to coach next season. The earlier statement came one day following UNM's quarterfinals loss in the Mountain West basketball tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada

The Lobos hired Neal four years ago today to replace Steve Alford, who departed the program to take over at UCLA. Neal went 76-52 as the Lobo head coach after serving as an assistant under Alford. In all, Neal spent 10 years as an assistant and later head coach.

Neal went 27-7 in his rookie season, leading the Lobos to the Mountain West tournament title and a spot in the NCAA tournament. The last three seasons, however, Neal’s Lobos could not reach 20 wins. UNM also lost its first conference tournament game since last winning the tournament.

This offseason has seen an exodus over the last few weeks with four scholarship players deciding to leave the program, including the team’s top scorer Elijah Brown.

Neal’s contract includes a $1 million buyout clause. The move came down before April 1 when the next year of Neal's contract would have taken effect. If the school fired Neal after midnight, UNM would have owed Neal his $300,000 base salary for the year plus the buyout.

“With the challenges facing UNM, every decision we make must reflect the best interests of the UNM community, and in this particular case, the men’s basketball program, as well as student-athletes and Lobo fans,” UNM Acting President Chaouki Abdallah said in the UNM release. “The decision made late tonight comes after lengthy consideration in light of recent developments that cannot be ignored. We understand the frustration being voiced by Lobo fans and hope they will see us through this time of transition and continue to support UNM athletics.”

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J.R. Oppenheim

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