New Mexico Lobos Coach Craig Neal continues to make horrendous mistakes in how he deals with his son as a Lobo.
BY RICHARD STEVENS
And lots of Lobo folks are tuning in. And a few are tuning out.
It’s an interesting show with enough twists to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. However, the plot remains consistent. Hovering around the outstanding basketball given to us by shooting guard Elijah Brown and power forward Tim Williams – possibly the two best players in the Mountain West – we have a father-son sideshow.
What should we call it? “As the Neals Turn.” “The Young (Neal) and the Restless (Fans)” or maybe “All My Children (Should Be Starting).”
Or is this more a “Father Doesn’t Know Best” type of sitcom.
New Mexico Lobos Coach Craig Neal continues to make horrendous mistakes in how he deals with his son as a Lobo. This presentation needs some second thought, some common sense, and much improved PR consultation. Lobo AD Paul Krebs once hired a PR firm to help him pull his butt out of a crack during “Mike Locksley Gate.” Maybe that firm should be brought in to help out Coach Neal. He puts his foot in his mouth about as easily as Brown knocks down free throws.
Coach Neal’s first mistake came early, and we are not talking about the distinct possibility that he greatly overestimated his son’s ability. Coach Neal’s first mistake was starting Cullen Neal in his first game as a Lobo. Immediately, fans and other Lobo players sensed favoritism. Bye, bye, Alex Kirk! The wise and fair thing (to Cullen) would have been to bring him off the bench – for several games.
Coach Neal made another huge mistake in Cullen’s sophomore year when he placed his injured son on the bench right next to the coaching staff and tried to convince the “gullible” Lobo fans that this was because Cullen was a coach in a player’s body.
Yeah, right. This was not the message picked up by a Pit crowd not exactly sweet on the former Eldorado High School player, who made few fans in opposing high-school gyms with his punkish behavior.
The other day in a post-game interview, Coach Neal credited an outstanding scoring effort by Tim Williams to Cullen recognizing that the ball should be thrown inside. Heck, maybe any Lobo could have scored those 30-plus points. It was the passes, not the shots.
The latest PR fiasco by Neal came during a news conference when he mentioned his son was receiving death threats along with numerous harassment from Lobo fans. The Journal’s Mark Smith (beat writer Geoff Grammer must have been picking up Neal’s laundry that day) followed up the allegations with a story telling how Coach Neal met with the cops but never mentioned death threats.
Makes no sense, huh? Your son gets death threats. You meet with law enforcement about the harassment. You don’t mention life-threatening comments.
What this looks like to a lot of Lobo fans is a dishonest attempt by Coach Neal to generate “love” for his son. OK, that’s fine. We all want our kids to be loved. But if there were no death threats, then Coach Neal did a disservice to Lobo fans. Neal even suggested that the bad behavior of Lobo fans was hurting his recruiting.
This is an ill-advised strategy by Coach Neal. This is a slap in the face to all Lobo fans. Neal might have generated some support for Cullen – and the kid is slowly earning it – but it is not a good PR move by a Lobo coach to take a shot at Lobo fans, especially when your team appears to be heading to the NIT.
The support that this community gives a program that has never even reached the Sweet 16 might be unequaled in college ball. The Lobo fans might just be the primary reason for a player to come to New Mexico and bask in the love of The Pit.
Now, they are being projected as vile and heartless creatures with no love for their Pit heroes? Now, they are being projected as roadblocks to future recruitment?
And who brought these (possibly false) allegations to the forefront, to the media’s attention?
If Coach Neal really believes this, then maybe he should think about coaching in some other venue in front of other fans. Maybe Steve Alford is looking for an assistant.
Richard Stevens is a former sports writer for The Albuquerque Tribune. More recently, he was an insider at the Lobo athletic department. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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