UNM Hires Craig Neal as Head Coach

USA TODAY -- Kyle Terada

Steve Alford's replacement is found in-house as former assistant Craig "Noodles" Neal is promoted from the interim to the real thing.

It didn't take very long and it didn't shock very many people, but the University of New Mexico moved quickly to secure the future of its men's basketball program and named Craig Neal head coach.

The university was seemingly under a great deal of pressure as the players -- free to take to their respective Twitter accounts following Steve Alford's departure to UCLA -- took turns voicing their support of a Neal hire. Some emotionally threatened to transfer if Neal was passed over.

Even Neal's son Cullen -- a coveted recruit that had previously committed to St. Mary's -- led a 'UNM: Hire Noodles' campaign that began making the Facebook rounds. It's unlikely the unversity yielded to social media cries, but the tenacious grassroots support of Neal certainly didn't make an outward search very likely.

Neal, 49, signed a five-year deal that will consist of a base salary and compensation paying him $750,000 plus incentives each season. Neal had spent the previous nine seasons as Alford's assistant, including three at Iowa and six at New Mexico. The contract makes Neal one of the four highest paid men's basketball coaches in the Mountain West.

With the hire, New Mexico retains a substantial share of the Alford-led system, requiring very little overhaul in a Mountain West Conference that seemed ripe for New Mexico's taking. All five Lobo starters (including Mountain West Player of the Year Kendall Williams) are set to return for the 2013-14 season, barring any transfers or roster tweaks.

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