LAS CRUCES, New Mexico — This time last year the Aggies were just days away from winning the WAC, getting the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and beating UCONN in the first round. This year? The team isn’t seeing a second of postseason play.
Instead the University has cleared some players to participate in voluntary workouts a few hours a day. An NMSU spokesperson told ABC-7 it’s to take care of players’ mental health.
All of this as two separate investigations into the program are ongoing.
The first investigation: A shooting in Albuquerque where police say NMSU player Mike Peake shot and killed a UNM student after being cornered. Other players broke curfew, three of which police say met Peake and took evidence from the crime scene.
NMSU says it will release the findings of a third party investigation after it’s completed within the next week or so.
The second investigation: hazing and sexual assault allegations. A player says three teammates touched him inappropriately in front of other players.
The University was unable to provide a time frame on when that investigation would be complete.
Both of the investigations put the future of the players and coaches on the 2022-23 roster in jeopardy.
NMSU fired head basketball coach Greg Heiar after the sexual assault allegations came to light. If the Aggies are to turn the page they need to hire the right guy to take over.
“I think if you look at Mario’s track record he has a very good record of hiring football coaches and basketball coaches, this one was a swing and a miss,” Rus Bradburd a former assistant coach at UTEP and NMSU said.
For the first time in Athletic Director Mario Moccia’s tenure, the school hired a firm to help with the coach search. Sources told ABC-7 that firm is Jeff Schemmel with College Sports Solutions – the same firm that helped NMSU move to Conference USA.
“A search firm will give you an extra layer of background checks and doing a deep dive into candidates’ backgrounds, that’s one great benefit,” Moccia said. “The other benefit is when you are targeting head coaches for men’s basketball, it’s a little easier when a search firm is involved to be able to make contact and then there is a firewall for both us and the candidate.”
Moccia told ABC-7 he wants the new head coach to be a current of former Division 1 head coach who has had success and is known for having a disciplined program.
“You have to have someone who is flexible enough to change things quickly because I think we’re going to have to replace every player on the team, it won’t surprise me if there is not a single player back,” Bradburd said.
Does NMSU have the money for that type of coach?
The University was paying Heiar a base salary of $300,000. That number is tied with Florida International for third lowest in C-USA among the 10 teams in the conference next year. The only two teams below them are Kennesaw State at $258,000 and Sam Houston at $232,000.
That means six teams in the conference pay more than NMSU, all the way up to Middle Tennessee with $750,000 (that includes 575,000 as a base + 175,000 for media commitments).
Moccia told ABC-7 there have been discussions to increase what they are going to pay. But how much is feasible?
“If we’re going after a money candidate, it’s going to be a long and lonesome road,” Bradburd said. “I think it’s going to take a mutual thing, someone who has a love for New Mexico State and someone who we like.”
Coaches with connections to the program:
Reggie Theus – the current head men’s basketball coach and athletic director at Bethune-Cookman was the head coach of the Aggies from 2005-2007. In his second season he took the program to the first round of the tournament.
The former NBA player has over 20 years of coaching experience and there is no question coaching in C-USA is a step-up from the SWAC. But would Theus want to return to the program where he had the most success as a coach?
Marvin Menzies – the now Kansas City head men’s basketball coach was the head coach of the Aggies from 2007-2016. He took the program to 5 NCAA tournament’s out of his 10 seasons and had a 198-111 all time record with the program. After NMSU Menzies went to UNLV, then Grand Canyon as an associate and now Kansas City.
Menzie’s greatest success on the court came when he was at NMSU and once again coaching in C-USA would be a step-up from the Summit League. But would Menzies’ want to return to the place he already spent ten years of his career at?
Paul Weir – the athletic director of Eastern New Mexico was an assistant at the Aggies under Menzies from 2007-2016 and then took over the head coaching duties the following year and took the program to the tournament. From there he went to the University of New Mexico from 2017-2021 but didn’t have the same level of success. Would the now AD want to get back into coaching?
Casey Owens – the NMSU grad and former NMSU Director of Basketball Operations under Chris Jans has worked in coaching, player development and scouting at the NBA level as well as internationally. Right now he is in charge of the open workouts for cleared players at NMSU.
Despite all of Owens’ experience including being the head coach of the Lakers G-League team and the assistant at the Lakers, Owens has never been a head coach at the D1 level.
Owens clearly likes NMSU, would the Aggies consider hiring him even though he doesn’t have D1 head coaching experience?
James Miller – was the other guy NMSU were considering last time around but instead they went with Heiar and Miller instead followed Chris Jans to Mississippi State to be the assistant. Prior to that Miller spent four seasons at NMSU under Jans.
Would Miller consider returning to the land of enchantment for his first job as a head coach even though he was overlooked last season? And would NMSU want to bring Miller back considering he hasn’t been a head coach yet?
Coaches with connections to key people at NMSU:
Bruce Weber – has spent roughly 25 years as a head coach. In that time he’s taken 13 teams to the tournament, including Illinois to the championship game in 2005, Kansas State to the Elite 8 in 2019 and Southern Illinois to the Sweet 16 in 2002.
His time at Southern Illinois from 1998-2003 is how he knows Moccia, who was the AD for the Salukis from 2006-2014. That’s also where Moccia met Jerry Kill, the now football coach for the Aggies.
Weber and Kill were both the head coaches of the Salukis from 2001-2003. Their paths crossed again in 2016 when Kill was the Associate AD at Kansas State while Weber was the head basketball coach.
Weber ended his time at Kansas State in 2022 and hasn’t coached since. Instead he spent this past season being a studio analyst for the Big Ten Network.
Weber certainly has the pedigree to take the job, he has connections to the school that go way back and he wouldn’t need the money that NMSU don’t really have to give. But at 66 years old would Weber want to return to the coaching world, rebuild the Aggies and maybe make one last splash?
Barry Hinson – Hinson is in his fourth year on staff at Oklahoma State. Prior to that he was the head coach at Southern Illinois from 2012-2019 – it’s a job that Moccia hired him for.
He hasn’t coached since he finished his time with the Salukis but maybe now is the time to get back into it?
Chris Lowery – coaches at Southern Illinois from 2004-2012. In 2007 he took the team to the Sweet 16. While Moccia didn’t hire Lowery for that job, he was the AD for 6 of the years Lowery was the coach for.
In 2011 after three seasons of a 0.500 record or below Moccia gave Lowery a vote of confidence. However after an 8-23 overall record in 2011-2012, Lowery was fired.
Lowery has not been a head coach since – instead for more than a decade, he’s been an assistant coach at Kansas State, Missouri State and now Northwestern.
Is Lowery ready to step back up to the head coach position and do Moccia and him still have a good relationship?
Coaches without any connection that could be a good fit:
Tom Crean – was a ‘Mr. Fix It’ at Indiana and maybe he’s the guy to come in and rebuild the Aggie program just like he did with the Hoosiers.
Crean took over the reigns of Indiana in 2008 when the program’s reputation had been tarnished and there was a mass exodus of players and recruits. In just his fourth season there he took the team to the Sweet 16.
He also coached at Marquette where he took the team to the Final 4 and then coached at Georgia. In 2022 the Bulldogs let go of Crean and he’s since served as an analyst for ESPN.
Crean knows how to take over a program and rebuild it from the ground up and find success, he also was making millions at Georgia so wouldn’t need the money. But does he want to get back into coaching and if he does, would he want to navigate a tough situation again or is he happy in the studio?
Steve Lutz – has now taken Texas A&M Corpus-Christi to the NCAA tournament in both of his two years at the helm. There’s no doubt his name will be thrown around for a lot of open coaching jobs in better conferences than Southland. The opening at NMSU could prove a good option but there’s also a likely chance he’ll be fielding better offers than the Aggies.
While the Islanders is his first head coaching gig, he’s spent the last 25 years as an assistant, most recently at Purdue.
Lutz has the success and experience behind his name and is on the rise, but would he want to take on a project like NMSU and will the Aggies be able to compete with other programs after Lutz.
Billy Donlon – is a current associate head coach at Clemson after beginning his coaching career as an assistant in 1999.
He has had two stints as a head coach, most recently at Kansas City from 2019-2022 where he had an overall record of 46-39. His first time as a head coach was with Wright State, there he won more than 20 games in a season, three times.
He may not have as many wins as some of the other guys on the list but he does have experience and if he wants another shot as a head coach he may be a more feasible option for NMSU.
Ben Howland – is one of a few D1 coaches that has taken four teams to the NCAA tournament in his nearly 30 years of coaching. Those teams are Northern Arizona, Pittsburgh, UCLA and Mississippi State.
His last stint was at Mississippi State from 2015-2022. Would he want to get back into coaching and have one last run before he officially parts ways with the game?
Note: This is a working list and the search for a new coach is still in the early stages. As we learn new information we will update this story.