Category: Going Deep

The Petty Politics of Loboland

By Daniel Libit

On January 26, 2015, Craig Neal went to Santa Fe to collect a check.

At a press conference in the rotunda of The Roundhouse, Gov. Susana Martinez presented the University of New Mexico men’s basketball coach with a $10,000 donation to the “Pink Pack,” a cancer charity founded by Hugh Greenwood, the Lobos’ starting guard.

The next day, a photograph from the ceremony appeared, below-the-fold, on the front of the Albuquerque Journal’s sports section.

The image showed the governor and the coach standing face-to-face, staring intently into each other’s eyes: Neal’s right hand rests insouciantly on Martinez’s left shoulder, as she gazes up at him with a tight-lipped smile.

The picture captured, among other things, an increasingly rare sign of comity between the state’s chief executive and its largest university. But Neal was a special exception. Continue reading “The Petty Politics of Loboland”

The Reconciliation of Cody Hopkins

By Daniel Libit

HUNT, Texas — On Dec. 14, 2015, Cody Hopkins, the former University of New Mexico men’s basketball operations director, pulled up to the crossing-guard gate of La Hacienda Treatment Center, 80 miles northwest of San Antonio.

Tucked away on a remote, limestone shelf in the Texas Hill Country, Hopkins would try to make sense of a year that had fallen off a cliff. There would be no alcohol here. There would be no cell phone. And, ever mercifully, there would be no Purchasing Card statements.

Hopkins hoped that his arrival here marked the rock-bottom of his descent, the point where he could begin to climb out of the hole. And he was led to believe that UNM, his current employer, was behind him in this effort — or, at the very least, not against him.

But on Dec. 22, eight days into his treatment, Hopkins decided to check back in with the rest of the world. For the first time since he entered La Hacienda, he logged onto a computer — one with lumbering, dial-up Internet — to see if he could catch the score of the UNM-Auburn game at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii. Best he could figure was to find it on the Twitter feed of Geoff Grammer, the Albuquerque Journal Lobos beat reporter, where instead he discovered this: Continue reading “The Reconciliation of Cody Hopkins”

The Comeuppance of Craig Neal

By Daniel Libit

It’s over. Even if it’s not over yet. Even if it might not be over for a while — that surely has less to do with the man in question than the exigencies of his situation.

Craig Neal’s problems as a college basketball coach have by now become self-evident: the mounting losses, for starters, but really the entire package — the cockeyed public statements; the scapegoating; the sophistry; the pretense; the lack of discipline; the thin skin (that’s worse than Steve Alford’s, if that’s possible).

At New Mexico, Neal has presided over a staff that has been in a perpetual state of flux; over successive teams in retrograde; and over a son who was compelled to transfer out of his father’s program. It is a testament to many uncomfortable truths (about the New Mexico Lobos, yes, but also about college athletics, in general) that Neal has been able to noodle himself into his high-paying, state-subsidized job, with so little contingent accountability. And the picture does not get prettier once the curtain is lifted.

“Craig Neal, known affectionately across the nation as ‘Noodles’…,” reads the head coach’s official bio on GoLobos.com. But that kind of praise tells only a part of the story.

Despite Neal’s semblance of fair-haired, Indianan affability, NMFishbowl.com has found, he has also left a long trail of rancor and recriminations in his path as he voraciously careered from Toronto, to Iowa City, to Albuquerque.

This story is based, in part, on two dozen interviews with sources who have known Neal at various stages of his career — including coaches, players, parents, boosters, pro executives and administrators. In many cases, the sources agreed to talk only on the condition they not be identified, in order to speak candidly. Through a UNM Athletics spokesperson, Neal declined to be interviewed for this story, or respond to a detailed list of questions addressing the various claims made about him here.  Continue reading “The Comeuppance of Craig Neal”