Forty years of NMSU athletics in review

© 2016 Jim Spence - My guess is the population in Dona Ana County has tripled since Kristi and I arrived here forty years ago. We attended nearly every Aggie basketball game for many years. The Aggies played top 25 teams in the Pan Am Center quite often. When ranked teams like Wichita State, Indiana State, UNLV, or our rivals UNM or UTEP came to Las Cruces, there were almost always 12,000 or more in the seats for those games. Considering how much smaller Las Cruces was 30 or 40 years ago, it seemed like everyone went to the games. Even when lesser teams came to town there would still be 8,000-9,000 in attendance.
Sometime around the late 1980’s the leadership culture at NMSU began to deteriorate. Several woefully unmotivated people secured positions of authority at NMSU. Anytime this happens, the problem lies at the top of an organization. By the mid to late 1980's the NMSU Board of Regents fell under the control of people who were less interested in excellence than in other more poorly disguised agendas. Institutionally speaking, NMSU lost sight of the fact that the Aggie basketball program must compete continuously for entertainment dollars and the customers cannot be taken for granted. 
With a weak Board of Regents prevailing, we began to see rapid turnover of NMSU presidents. Fans also witnessed the hiring and retention of a terribly weak athletic director in Al Gonzalez. You could see the beginning of a train wreck as Gonzalez began to blame everyone else for failures that were obviously his. Occasionally, observant people in the community warned through letters to the editor etc. of the obvious damage being done to NMSU athletics by poor leadership. The warnings fell on deaf ears. 
A reputation for bad service is hard to erase. Sadly, the NMSU bureaucracy gradually shirked more and more its basic customer service and satisfaction responsibilities. As laziness and sloth set in, the results were predictable. Customers defected. The number of fans who refused to hand over their hard-earned money to an institution that was no longer committed to the overall quality of the customer’s experience gradually grew.
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The Pan American Center
Of course there were some successes along the way. Coaches like Neil McCarthy and Lou Henson were able to overcome poor institutional leadership and win anyway. However in the end, the heavy weight of incompetence of presidents like Michael Orenduff and Barbara Couture, in conjunction with unmotivated athletic directors like Al Gonzalez and McKinley Boston were just too much for our teams to overcome. Financial strife becoming a way of life in the Fulton Center, is the unmistakable symptom of decades of failed leadership at the top.
We were not very deep into the disastrous McKinley Boston era at NMSU, before the most ominous challenges yet confronted NMSU athletics. The well-managed athletic departments in the WAC Conference began to seek and find stronger conference affiliations, while NMSU’s competitive position continued to deteriorate even more rapidly. While Dr. Boston went through the proverbial motions, NMSU athletics burned.
By the time Garrey Carruthers took command as president of NMSU in 2013, he inherited an athletics department disaster. Despite on court successes under Marvin Menzies, NMSU basketball attendance had slowed to a trickle where it remains to this day.
Eventually, the hapless McKinley Boston was finally vanquished by Garrey Carruthers, but the damage had already been done. Current athletic director Mario Moccia was brought in to try to clean up the decades old mess and establish improvement momentum. Moccia is most certainly a talented and high energy individual. However, there are simply too many other departments at NMSU being run by unmotivated career bureaucrats, that have controlled and continue to control the destiny of NMSU athletics. These archaic bureaucratic structures continuously disrupt Moccia’s efforts to compete in a customer service and customer satisfaction-driven endeavor. As a result, the progress Moccia can reasonably be expected to achieve should be measured in inches instead of miles. The examples of all the absurd handcuffs on Moccia’s authority to be responsive to his customer's basic needs are simply too numerous to mention here.
There have been recent bright spots at NMSU. The Aggies beat a strong Lobo team in football this fall and the hiring of basketball coach Paul Weir in the off season was a bold stroke. Weir’s Aggie basketball team has now reeled off fourteen consecutive victories and the program is attracting national attention for the first time in many years. Sadly, the attendance at NMSU basketball games does not reflect the tremendous success the NMSU basketball team has had this season.
Clearly there is much more to being able to run a financially viable athletic department than simply winning. Only a true revolution in thinking regarding the chain of command can reverse the trends at NMSU. A decisive commitment to radically streamline the structure of responsibilities for customer service is in order. NMSU must put authority for decisions affecting athletics into the hands of people who will pay a steep personal price for providing poor service. There is no other way out and time is short.

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