By Daniel Libit
If you haven’t otherwise seen signs of a coming Apocalypse, perhaps this will fill the bill: After almost two years of my relentlessly scrutinizing, critiquing, filing suit against, tweeting at, and otherwise immiserating the University of New Mexico’s athletic department, a (current) Lobo staffer has now finally agreed to go on-the-record with me in a conversation. That seemed reason enough to launch a podcast (and post my first blog item since March).
And so, my guest for the first — and potentially only — NMFishbowl Podcast is UNM head men’s basketball coach Paul Weir.
Prompted by a fusillade of tweets I fired off earlier this month, carrying the hashtag #PaulWeirHasAnIdea, and ridiculing the second-year Lobo boss for his proposed plans to repurpose half The Pit’s luxury suites for coaching staff office space, Weir phoned me, unbidden, to explain himself. That, in turn, led us to record a longer, open-ended exchange this past Friday.
“Maybe a really open discussion could drop some barriers and allow people to have more transparency going forward,” Weir tells me.
So, in addition to his Pit suite proposal, our really open discussion included: Weir’s former boss and Lobo coaching forebear Steve Alford; the beleaguered state of UNM’s athletic department; my coverage of that department; the economics of that department; the economics of intercollegiate athletics; whether college athletes should be allowed to earn additional compensation beyond their scholarship; and the (bad) incentives that drive athletic administrators to make (unwise) spending decisions at schools like New Mexico.
Here are some key takeaways (you can click the hyperlinks to jump to that portion of the audio)…
Weir on how his position has (sort of) changed in regards to his Pit suite proposal:“I did tell [UNM Athletic Director] Eddie [Nuñez], ‘Hey, let’s just put the breaks on this thing for a while.’ I thought I did a lot of homework. I thought I researched a lot of other universities…I met with professors in the business school to get their thoughts from an economical standpoint. I did a lot of things where I thought I did my homework. But what I did not do is probably try and find a way to get more community feedback or more outside, grassroots people’s thoughts. And that’s on me…Yes, my stance on it has changed, but it hasn’t changed to the point where I am willing to walk away and forget it.”
Weir on my previous reporting about concerns over his perceived resistance to UNM’s sports concussion policy:“We had an incident with a student athlete who knew there was a conditioning day, knew that if he could basically say he had concussion-like symptoms, he’d get out of it and joked about it and said I think I have a concussion and can’t practice today. Laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh. And then it got into something serious. Now he told us he had one, and how do we respond? And that morphed into a conversation I had with the guys, where I said, like, this is really serious stuff and you have to be very serious about how you report your symptoms. You can’t kid around because you could potentially end up in protocol and missing time and missing games…
“I asked questions about the particular research documents that went into our concussion protocol, and I researched several other concussion protocol policies at schools around the country that used different research and I think the person who was involved in the research potentially took offense to that, and I think that may have spurred some other things.”
Weir on his formative learning experience at the University of Iowa, during Steve Alford’s denouement: “I enrolled in a doctorate program in sports psychology and, at the same time, was working for Iowa basketball. And, personally, I had a very interesting two years. Obviously, I was working on the basketball side of things and learning coaching and developing that way, but on the other side I was doing studies. I was in the health and sports studies department, which had a very distinct group of professors, group of students, in that department, that had issues with athletics, in terms of gender equity — just the whole role of athletics and the academic mission. And, really, for two years, I was in classes with students and professors that were openly critical of me, not necessarily personally, but what I represented: which was a white male in athletics. And for two years, I listened to everything they had to say.”
Weir on the white, male hegemony of college athletics: “When you look at intercollegiate athletics as a whole, it has been a white male preserve, and I think the [graduate] program I was in was looking at it more from a gender perspective, and women, and women’s rights in intercollegiate athletics…I didn’t learn then as much as I should have. I wasn’t mature enough and I wasn’t developed enough to understand everything they were saying. I was working my butt off, sleeping in the office, trying to become a young basketball coach, and then I was walking into these classrooms just hearing people over and over again question power, question intercollegiate athletics, in ways I couldn’t really process. But over time, those became some…seeds in my development that now, the dissertation I am doing my PhD on is (about) women in college sports.”
Weir on #MeToo and Alford’s handling of the Pierre Pierce scandal: “I think our world has changed — I mean the coaching fraternity. I think that’s football coaches, I think that’s basketball coaches, that’s any male-dominated area that we all have grown up in or been apart of, creates its own perspectives on things. That’s with regards to sexuality. That’s with regard to women. That’s with regards to a myriad of things: when men get around other men, and it is a predominantly male competitive environment, I think perspectives can get blinded. And I don’t know if anyone in coaching ever knew that; I don’t know if anyone in coaching ever told coaches that; but I think the lack of diversity really exposes a lot of weaknesses to any program…
“I wasn’t there for [the Pierce scandal] and I don’t know what went on [at Iowa], internally. It was not ever anything I asked about or knew about, so I don’t know what happened. But I’ve been around sports now long enough, and I’ve been around what it’s about to see how these mistakes get made and how they get compounded because of the lack of oversight that college coaches can have with issues they don’t know about when it comes to the outside world.”
Weir on mercenary-like nature of the college coaching business: “The coaches didn’t make the rules. There are people above coaches: there’s presidents, there’s athletic directors, there’s the NCAA, there’s boards of regents. There are people that can set up the rules however they want. They kind of set it up this way. There was a coach in our league last year that got fired after three years, you know. There are certain things in place that, unfortunately, I think make maybe coaches do things that could get interpreted in a way you do, which I agree with, but that might not be the reflection of truly their character…Until the rules get changed, I don’t think people want to start judging (coaches) and their character for it.”
Weir on whether college athletes should be allowed to earn compensation beyond their grant-in-aide scholarship:”Absolutely —Anything to do with an athlete’s rights, whether it is transferring and being able to play right away, or going to what school you want to go to, going professionally, being able to earn money off the likeness of your image or your jersey or whatever, I don’t have anywhere near the power to implement that policy, but that to me is the fairer thing to do.”
Weir on why athletic directors are personally incentivized to (over)spend money at schools like UNM: “You’ve got Texas A&M and Texas and these other schools: their revenues are in the $200 million. So, if you’re aspiring to be an athletic director at that level, you’ve got to show an ability to manage, create and be around those kinds of monies. You are not getting the athletic director jobs at those schools by saying, ‘We really trimmed our budget,’ and, ‘We really found those cost-effective ways to do things.'”
Weir on the experience of coaching in an athletic department under a perpetual cloud of controversy: “The world is very quickly changing with regards to auditing, transparency, accountability. I think that is changing in every field and I think UNM is no different. And from my perspective, it has really effected people into being afraid or a fear to make decisions, to do things, to act upon things, because they are worried about the consequences, or they are worried about how it may look in an Albuquerque Journal editorial or whatever it may be…
“I think, unfortunately, what gets caught up in that, that sometimes when there are things that aren’t going to be controversial, and they are easy to do, and they are the right thing to do, that we don’t move forward on them because we put so many protocols or things in place that things can’t move forward. And that, to me, from an outsider, is how it looks right now: that UNM and our athletics department is taking heat on so many different levels from so many different waves, that it’s almost kind of paralyzed us from being able to take action and initiative to move forward. And maybe that is rightfully so. Maybe there’s been enough mistakes in enough areas that athletics shouldn’t have the autonomy or the independence to go forward and make decisions, but, unfortunately, that means when there are good ideas and there are good decisions you kind fo can’t move forward.”
Weir on the inner-struggle of staying in his own lane: “Me and my agent have had several conversations about this where he, and anyone in my profession would say, ‘Stop doing that stuff, Paul, you don’t need to do that. Don’t talk to Daniel Libit. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. You’ve got more important things to worry about, focus on your job, win your games, do your thing.’ And that’s where me, maybe trying to do the authentic thing with myself, maybe wants a little more than that out of my job, or my life. And I like to immerse myself in some of these other things, and maybe that will get me into trouble, or maybe me wanting to do more that is out of my lane is problematic for my bosses or superiors, and that is something I have to think about as my career unfolds.”
UPDATE 9/25/18: As per the aforementioned IPRA, NMFishbowl.com has now received copies of Paul Weir’s emails to UNM officials, discussing his proposal to turn half The Pit’s suites into basketball staff office space. You can read about them here.
(Featured Image by David Becker / Getty)