By Daniel Libit
Newly obtained emails suggest UNM men’s basketball coach Paul Weir wasn’t operating as a lone Lobo with his widely panned pitch to convert almost half The Pit’s luxury suites into office space for his staff.
Weir’s proposal became public earlier this month, when he floated the suite-to-office conversion idea at a Board of Regents Finance & Facilities Committee meeting. According to the Albuquerque Journal, Weir told the committee’s three regents that he decided to come to them after hitting dead ends for months with university administrators.
Following the Journal’s report, Weir was treated to a healthy dose of ridicule by various sources, including the paper’s editorial board, which declared that the second-year Lobo coach had “jacked up an airball.” (This reporter took to Twitter to likewise deride Weir’s idea, which elicited a phone call from the coach and, subsequently, a two-hour podcast interview.)
Well, if Weir’s idea is, in fact, terrible (Editor’s note: it is), he ought not solely suffer the ridicule. Apparently, for reasons that are yet unrecognized, Weir’s bosses were quite supportive of his proposal from the start, as evidenced in emails obtained through a public records request. This would seem to contradict the story so far conveyed by Weir and his superiors, in which he supposedly ran the suite idea up the flagpole after failing to make any headway through the traditional lines of UNM bureaucracy. In fact, the wheels were already well in motion long before this month’s F&F meeting.
In a July 21 email to Weir, UNM Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez stipulated that he, UNM President Garnett Stokes and Executive Vice President David Harris were all supportive of the plan.
“David had acknowledged to me that he had asked university facility group to review the opportunity,” Nuñez wrote. “He can speak about that further but I know that he was in support, as you know I am.”
Nuñez, who has been silent on the matter since the F&F meeting, did not respond to an email seeking comment. Stokes also did not respond to request for comment sent through a UNM spokesperson.
In a statement to NMFishbowl.com, Harris acknowledged putting the exploratory process into motion, but suggested Nuñez overstated his position in the July email to Weir.
“When Coach Weir broached this subject with me, I indicated to him that a thorough review including an architectural assessment and a complete financial review would necessarily precede any action,” Harris said. “I did in fact ask our facilities group to coordinate with the Molzen-[Corbin] folks that were helping Coach Weir to ensure that any forthcoming analysis would be complete. I have not endorsed this concept, as I believe the cost to be prohibitive.”
Molzen Corbin is the architectural firm that designed the $60-million renovation of The Pit back in 2010. Prior to the construction work, UNM officials insisted that 40 new luxury suites would substantially satisfy the project’s debt service.
In its recent renovation assessment, Molzen Corbin projected that the cost of converting The Pit’s 16 southernmost suites into basketball office space would be just shy of $2 million. Weir has bristled at the notion he is requesting that kind of handout from the university, arguing that the only public funds he intends to use for the project are $150,000 in capital outlay money already designated to the men’s basketball program. Weir has said that he would try to raise the rest of the necessary funds through private donations.
Weir previously told NMFishbowl.com that, following public criticism of the proposal, he told Nuñez to “put the breaks on the this thing for a while.” Still, he said that while he had failed to anticipate the community’s feedback, he isn’t yet willing to “walk away and forget” the proposal.
In other emails obtained by NMFishbowl.com, Weir and Nuñez discussed the possibility of moving the basketball team’s video control room to a location behind the scoreboards in the arena’s mezzanine area. “I do agree that this is a great location for a basketball video as we move offices to this space,” Nuñez wrote on Aug. 16. “Unfortunately timing and finances right now are the main concern for me. This definitely is one that we would have to push back until after your season.”