Craig Neal Fired as New Mexico Men's Basketball HC After 4 Seasons

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistApril 1, 2017

LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 01:  Head coach Craig Neal of the New Mexico Lobos looks on during his team's game against the UNLV Rebels at the Thomas & Mack Center on February 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. New Mexico won 80-77.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The University of New Mexico announced late Friday that Craig Neal would not return as the Lobos' men's head basketball coach for the 2017-18 season.

Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal passed along the news. ESPN.com provided a statement from New Mexico athletic director Paul Krebs about the decision and the coaching search:

The University of New Mexico is grateful for the service and dedication that Coach Neal gave to Lobo basketball. He's a good man and a winning coach, but the time has come to move Lobo Basketball in a new direction. We will begin a search for a new coach immediately and look forward to building on the winning tradition of Lobo Basketball.

Neal enjoyed initial success after taking over for current UCLA head coach Steve Alford. The Lobos went 27-7, including a 15-3 mark in Mountain West Conference play, during his first season in charge (2013-14) en route to an NCAA tournament bid.

The program didn't sustain that success, though. UNM posted a middling 49-45 record over the past three years and failed to register any further March Madness appearances.

Along with the lackluster on-court results, there were rumors of problems behind the scenes, leading to a series of changes to the staff during his time in charge.

In December, Daniel Libit of NM Fishbowl passed along comments from a former member of the staff.

"The number one reason why I left [UNM] is because of Craig Neal," a former Lobo coach said. "He is just a vindictive, jealous person, and he…really played off (Alford)."

Krebs had previously stated Neal's job was safe on March 10. It's unclear what led to the change of direction over the three weeks that followed.

The coach's contract included a $1 million buyout clause, according to the Albuquerque Journal. The report also noted the school saved $300,000 in base pay by firing him mere hours before April 1, the start of the new contract year, though.

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