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New Mexico makes Craig Neal the highest paid coach in the Mountain West

In just his second year on the job, New Mexico makes Craig Neal the highest paid basketball coach in the Mountain West.

Andy Lyons

The New Mexico Lobos are very confident in head basketball coach Craig Neal. Monday morning the school announced a six-year deal that bumps Neal's salary to $950,000 per year, $200,000, more than he earned in his first season. This new deal makes Neal the highest paid coach in the Mountain West, and with incentives he could earn over $1 million annually.

In his first year after replacing Steve Alford, Neal led the Lobos to a second place finish in the Mountain West regular season, and then led the team to the conference tournament title over San Diego State. The Lobos ended the season with a 27-7 record and its year came to an end with a NCAA tournament loss to Stanford.

This contract revision will keep Neal in Albuquerque through the 2019-20 season, and most importantly the deal has been approved and signed on the dotted line.

"Leadership and continuity are crucial aspects of leading a program," said Paul Krebs, Vice President for Athletics in a statement released Monday morning. "In his short time as head coach, Craig has done an exemplary job of coaching his team, mentoring his student-athletes and leading a top-25 program. His commitment to the success of the program on and off the court was made evident in his first season as head coach."

Neal seems poised to keep New Mexico atop the Mountain West as well as relevant nationally, and it has shown in his recruiting prowess which on Sunday when Neal landed the top recruit out of Arizona for the 2016 class in power forward Mitch LIghtfoot.

"This means a lot to me and our program. I've received tremendous support from our administration, university and fans in my first year as head coach," said Neal in a statement. It all reaffirmed to me that the University of New Mexico is where I want to spend my career. I can't wait to continue leading this outstanding program and representing our university, our community and our state."

One reason that this up in pay was offered is because of interest other schools were giving Neal in this offseason. South Florida was close to getting Neal to leave New Mexico, plus there were reports from the Albuquerque Journal that Tulsa and Virginia Tech were interested in luring away Neal.

At the time of South Florida reaching out, the Lobos athletic department added on a pair of two years to his initial contract, and at that time the compensation package was not announced.

With Neal receiving so much attention nationally after just one season it seemed like a good time for New Mexico to show that they are serious in keeping Neal as its head coach for a long time.