Eddie Nuñez, the Deputy Director of Athletics for Louisiana State University, has been named the 13th Athletic Director for the University of New Mexico, Interim President Chaouki Abdallah announced on Thursday.
“We had a good search process that yielded three qualified and personable candidates,” Abdallah said in a release. “We were looking for a leader who is dedicated to academic excellence, strong ethics, careful financial management and community engagement. The committee and I agreed that Eddie is the right person for this key position at UNM. Welcome to our Lobo family, Eddie.”
Nuñez joins UNM athletics in a time of controversy and financial crisis. There are two open investigations into the athletic department spending from the New Mexico attorney general and state auditor, as well as countless public records requests. The UNM athletics leadership team has seen several notable resignations in recent months, and criticism of spending habits has become louder and more public as budget deficits. The director of business operations and chief financial officer positions remain open, the latter for nearly 15 months.
Nuñez will replace Paul Krebs, who served in the position from 2006 until his retirement last June. Janice Ruggiero has been serving as the Interim Athletics Director while the University searched for Krebs’ replacement.
Nuñez is a graduate of the University of Florida and was a member of their Men’s Basketball Team for two years after transferring from Miami-Dade Community College where he started his career.
“I want to thank the search committee and President Abdallah for their trust and confidence in me,” Nuñez said in a release. “It is an honor to accept the position of Director of Athletics at the University of New Mexico. With the support of this great university, all the pieces are here to achieve great things. My wife Jane and our girls are looking forward to our move to New Mexico and getting to know our fellow Lobos. We can’t wait to get started.”
“My number-one priority at UNM is always going to be the student-athlete and making sure their experience offers the support and resources they need to achieve great things on and off the field of play,” Nuñez said. “We are going to bring passion, transparency and energy to everything we do here.”
Most recently, Nuñez has been tasked with overseeing LSU men’s basketball, as well as men’s and women’s tennis. He also served as the department’s liaison to LSU Sports Properties, the Tiger Athletic Foundation and University Licensing and Brand Management. In his time with the Tigers, Nuñez served in seven different positions. He also led renegotiations on a 10-year multimedia rights agreement with Outfront Media Sports.
“Eddie is extremely bright and very hard working,” said LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva in a release. “He will energize the athletic department and engage with the community. New Mexico has hired a rising star.”
Additional responsibilities for Nuñez included: overseeing LSU Athletics Strategic Plan, Marketing and Promotions, Athletic Communications, Social and Digital Media, Creative Services, Video/Network Broadcast Services and all capital projects.
“Eddie Nuñez is a terrific selection to be the next Director of Athletics at the University of New Mexico. We will miss him at LSU, as he was a vital part of the athletic department here. However, he is ready for this new challenge in his professional life. Eddie has the ‘it’ factor that we so often describe people in our business that are destined to be successful. He will provide strong leadership to the coaching staff, athletic support staff and athletes at UNM,” said Paul Mainieri, LSU head baseball coach in a release.
Prior to joining the Athletic Department at LSU, Nuñez started out as a collegiate administrator at Vanderbilt University, where he was the Director of Game and Event Management. He also served as a graduate assistant for two years at Florida, before becoming an administrative assistant at Marquette. Nuñez is expected to start at New Mexico in mid-Sept., but an official start date has not been set.
Nuñez also spoke with the Daily Lobo for a brief Q&A.
Q: The athletic department has recently been under a lot of public scrutiny — including investigations by the state. In particular, the previous athletic director was the target of much of that criticism. How do you plan to increase public trust in the athletic director position you are coming into and in UNM Athletics spending in general?
A: The first thing we need to do is get our arms around and understand what has been done, what is there in the books and how we’re going to be able to better assess what we have in front of us. We’re going to do what we can in regards to transparency, and we’re going to work alongside the University. We’re going to try to ensure that our bottom line is where we expect it to be. We want everyone to be able to see that we are being fiscally prudent on everything we’re trying to do across the board for UNM Athletics.
Q: Last year, UNM Athletics made the now-overturned decision to cut funding to the ski program. More controversy has since emerged as seemingly unnecessary expenditures for more popular sports have come to light (i.e. expensive player gifts, hotel rooms for home games). What is your position on this and on the broader issue of protecting smaller-budget teams like skiing?
A: We want to be successful in every sport that we have, and we want to do that the right way. We’ll have to look at our expenditures and where opportunities exist. In regards to the specifics of the situation, I can’t really speak on it without having sat down and looked at it. What we want to look at is how we can be successful with what is in place already, and if we can’t, then it is up to us to see if we can increase our revenue through other sources — sponsorships, fundraising, anything that will help our student-athletes succeed.
Q: What are you excited about coming into this position, and what issues do you anticipate?
A: I’m excited for the opportunity. There are wonderful facilities. Academically, it’s a wonderful institution, there’s a wonderful community in Albuquerque, and there’s such a passionate fan base. There are a lot of positives in that perspective. When you look at the other side of it, I’m still trying to get my arms around it and understand it. The student-athletes are going to be centered in all the decisions we make so we can give them the opportunity to be successful.
Q: How will your experience as Deputy Director of Athletics at Louisiana State University carry over to becoming an effective athletic director at UNM?
A: I’ve been in college athletics for 18 plus years, and I’ve had first-hand experience in every facet of college athletics, from fundraising to facilities to customer service to dealing directly with the student-athletes...That knowledge and experience will allow me to come in with fresh eyes. We’re going to build a culture of excellence there, and that means we’re all going to be on the same page and going in the same direction. Having been a former athlete and a former coach, I have that perspective as well. I understand what the student-athletes are going through, but also the administrative side of it. I think all these experiences are going to serve myself and the UNM community extremely well.
Q: What is your vision for the future of UNM Athletics?
A: That culture of excellence is something I strive for in everything, and it’ll be a village approach. It’s going to be all hands on deck for everyone, from our student-athletes to our coaches to our faculty to our community. The way I want to approach this is by asking the question: How do we make UNM great? UNM is a wonderful institution with a wonderful athletic department. How can we as a group make this better in every facet for our students? My excitement is that there’s a lot of opportunity — we have some tremendous athletes and coaches and staff. Now we just all have to get on the same page about what we’re trying to achieve.
Q: Do you have anything to add?
A: We really want to do what we can to get our students involved. If we can generate excitement in our student base and our fan base, that’s going to be a key point moving forward. I hope our students jump on and support our football team, our basketball team, our volleyball team and other sports across the board, like our cross-country team, who’s ranked fourth. We’re going to do everything we can to support our school.
Cameron Goeldner is a freelance sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers men’s soccer, but also contributes content for baseball, basketball, football and track and field. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @goeldfinger.
Gabriella Rivera is a news reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @gabbychlamps.