ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The University of New Mexico’s new athletic director wants everyone to know that the athletic department isn’t broken and that he’s committed to finding ways to excel on and off the field.
Eddie Nunez made the comments at a news conference Friday before slipping into a customary cherry blazer to mark his official arrival as the new head of the troubled athletic department. As the 13th athletic director in the university’s 128-year history, Nunez replaces Paul Krebs, who announced his retirement in June after 11 years with the Lobos.
A Florida native who made his mark at LSU, Nunez will have to rebuild a program that’s under scrutiny following questionable spending and a lack of transparency. State auditors and the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office are conducting separate inquiries after questions were raised about the use of public money on a 2015 golf junket to Scotland that included private donors.
Nunez told a news conference packed with reporters, coaches, staff members and supporters that financial responsibility, integrity and transparency will be mandatory at every level within the athletic department moving forward.
“We’re going to protect the integrity of the UNM brand on and off the field and we’re going to start by making sure our own house is in order. I can promise you that,” he said.
The university over the summer instituted new controls and oversight of department finances after a review turned up inconsistencies in contracts, invoices and payments for basketball arena suites. That was preceded by the wave of criticism that followed news about the golf trip.
The university did not reveal what it paid for the private donors to attend the trip and initially recorded it as a basketball tournament in Ireland. Krebs eventually acknowledged to the university president that the school picked up the tab for the boosters, and school leadership characterized it as a serious omission on his part.
The athletic department also has grappled with budget deficits for nearly all of the last nine years.
Nunez acknowledged the problems, saying New Mexico is not alone with these kinds of challenges and he doesn’t believe any of them are insurmountable. He said he prefers to see the challenges as opportunities instead.
New Mexico officials have said that Nunez was chosen for the post based on his experience as well as his philosophy and vision for Lobo sports. They pointed to his success at LSU in generating revenue, making improvements to athletic facilities and seeing that student athletes were making the grades and contributing to their communities.
Since 2003, Nunez had served in a variety of high-level jobs at LSU. He oversaw LSU men’s basketball and men’s and women’s tennis and served as the department’s liaison with LSU Sports Properties, the Tiger Athletic Foundation and University Licensing and Brand Management.
During his tenure, LSU saw $400 million in facility renovations and construction. He also led the renegotiations on a 10-year multi-media rights agreement with Outfront Media Sports.
At New Mexico, Nunez said the focus will include doing well in the classroom, winning championships, contributing to the community and preparing student athletes for life after sports.
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