LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KTSM) – On the heels of perhaps the most disastrous coaching hire in school history, New Mexico State will soon begin a cautious search for its next men’s basketball coach.

First of all, there are many issues that are far more important than finding a new basketball coach. In just 11 months under Greg Heiar, the Aggies went from winning an NCAA Tournament game to being mired in multiple scandals, including a deadly shooting involving an Aggies player and hazing allegations made by one player against three of his teammates.

Since taking over in early 2015, NMSU Director of Athletics Mario Moccia has been able to lean on football bowl victories and trips to the postseason as his calling card. But now, things are entirely different.

How Moccia and the rest of the university handles this situation; who the school hires to replace Greg Heiar; and what that new coach does to ensure a more positive culture around the program is now Moccia’s legacy as the athletic director at his alma mater. Fair or not, little else will matter; that is how dire the situation has become for the NMSU basketball program, less than a year after beating UConn in the NCAA Tournament.

For New Mexico State to recover from the last 11 months of turmoil, a considerable amount of care will have to go into the hiring process for the next head coach. While getting a new person in is not the most important detail right now – investigating all of the alleged wrongdoings of the 2022-23 team is – the fact remains that when NMSU takes the floor for the 2023-24 season, they will have to have a coach on the bench that will fix a culture that NMSU chancellor Dan Arvizu called, “infected,” in February.

“As a parent, I’m angry and I know that this is not what anybody anticipated for students coming to our institution,” Arvizu said. “When that outcome is not what we desire, it behooves us to take full and strong action to ensure first that we send the right messages and second that it doesn’t happen again.”

Arvizu said last month that the university would wait until the school’s investigations were over to make decisions on the employment statuses of Heiar’s assistant coaches. All eight assistants remain on paid administrative leave, as they have been since Feb. 10 when serious allegations of hazing first emerged, forcing the chancellor to first indefinitely suspend, then subsequently cancel the remainder of the Aggies’ season.

As far as moving forward with hiring a new coach, Moccia said that while the school will evaluate its processes; Arvizu hinted there would be more administrative oversight.

“Unfortunately, in this situation for all involved, this (Heiar) did not work out,” Moccia said. “I don’t think our model is broken at all, however, do I have reservations? We’ll take a great look at our processes on the next hire.”

On March 7, Moccia told KTSM that the university was close to hiring a search firm that would oversee the hiring of the next head coach. It’s not something that NMSU has done before under Moccia, but it should allow for better background checks into potential candidates.

“We’ve got a pretty wide net, so nobody has been ruled out. We’ll take it and find out who the best fit is for the Aggies for this particular time,” Moccia said.

Cleaning up the program will be at the forefront for the next NMSU head coach, but successfully transitioning the program to Conference USA in 2023-24 will be an important factor, too.

Moccia said a person with prior head coaching experience at the Division I level would also be a priority for the school, since Heiar did not have any when he was hired last year.

“I would love to target someone who’s been a Division I coach or is currently a Division I coach, ” Moccia said. “But when you start thinking, ‘Division I coach, had success,’ the eye of that needle gets much smaller to thread.”

When the time comes for New Mexico State to make a coaching hire, they’ll have to put together a list of candidates.

KTSM has done the same; here is a short list of coaches NMSU could potentially choose to target and why they might fit in Las Cruces. It is important to note that some of this list is speculation at this point. With the rest of the college basketball world finishing the 2023-24 season, it is to be expected that things will change in the coming weeks, as other programs around the country also will inevitably have openings.


Bruce Weber – The former Illinois and Kansas State head coach who famously led the Illini to the 2005 national championship game and the Wildcats to the 2018 Elite 8 was also at Southern Illinois from 1998-2003, which ties him to Mario Moccia (Moccia was the SIU athletic director from 2006-2014). They know each other because of SIU.

Weber was at Southern Illinois at the same time as current NMSU football coach Jerry Kill, giving him another tie to Las Cruces. Weber has won 497 career games as a head coach, though his last few years at Kansas State were a struggle. He also championed the ethics of the game while he was at K-State.

A member of the NCAA ethics committee, in his final season with the Wildcats in 2021-22, Weber refused to cut his hair until the NCAA punished some of the teams that were involved in FBI investigations that revealed possible recruiting violations.

Given the situation at NMSU currently, Weber might be the guy to clean up the program. However, at 66 years old, would he want to take on that responsibility?

Additionally, Weber made $2.3 million in his final season at K-State in 2021-22, according to USA Today. NMSU paid Heiar $300,000 in 2022-23 and while they might be able to raise that base salary for the next coach, there’s no chance they could get in the same stratosphere as what Weber got from Kansas State.

Bottomline: Moccia loves to make a splash. NMSU will probably give Weber a call given his ties to Moccia and Kill, but Weber seems like a long shot. If NMSU can pull it off, though, it would certainly turn heads in a major way given the state of the program.


Todd Simon – After taking over at Southern Utah before the 2016-17 season, Todd Simon has quietly turned the Thunderbirds into a successful program in Cedar City. In their first year in the WAC in 2022-23, Southern Utah is currently in second place in the standings at 18-9 overall, 10-4 in league play. They won the Big Sky regular season title in 2020-21.

Southern Utah is by no means an easy place to win; like NMSU, it’s secluded and there are budgetary constraints. Simon has been able to recruit talent to SUU, while also seemingly running a clean program. In 2021-22, he led the Thunderbirds to a 23-11 mark, with a postseason appearance.

The question for Simon is this: Will he have better offers coming his way? He’s been successful enough at SUU that a Mountain West or Power-5 program in need of a coach could come calling, particularly if Southern Utah makes the NCAA Tournament.

Plus, would NMSU be able to increase his salary enough to make the juice worth the squeeze in terms of taking over a program in need of an overhaul? Simon makes a considerable amount in incentive bonuses; NMSU would have to make it worth his while.

Bottomline: This feels like the year another program comes calling for Simon. If NMSU can swing it, he would be a good fit. Simon would definitely be able to win in Las Cruces.

Steve Lutz – A former Purdue assistant under Matt Painter (Painter also has ties to Moccia through Southern Illinois), Steve Lutz led Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to the Southland Conference championship and an NCAA Tournament appearance in his first year as a head coach in 2021-22.

This year, Lutz again has the Islanders competing for the conference championship; they’re in first place in the league at 19-9, 12-3 with two weeks left in the regular season. A native of Texas with deep ties to the state, Lutz would theoretically be able to use that to his advantage in recruiting as NMSU transitions into C-USA.

The question for Lutz, like Simon, is whether or not he’ll be fielding better offers a month from now. Back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances at A&M-Corpus Christi would turn heads. He’s a native of San Antonio; at the end of a tough season, would UTSA cut ties with Steve Henson a year before his contract ends and turn to Lutz to lead them into the American Athletic Conference?

Lutz also has a new contract with the Islanders; it could be tough for NMSU to pay a buyout for him for that reason.

Bottomline: Don’t rule Lutz out of the mix; he’d be a great hire for the Aggies. However, it may be tough fiscally for NMSU to get him and if the Islanders go dancing again next month, don’t be surprised to see him roaming the sidelines of a bigger program.


Tom Crean – Crean has experience cleaning up a mess. He took over at Indiana after Kelvin Sampson, winning two Big Ten championships. Like Weber, he’s likely a long-shot and has a successful broadcasting career.

Travis DeCuire – DeCuire has been the head coach at Montana since 2014-15, leading the Grizzlies to four 20-win seasons and two NCAA Tournament appearances in that time. Montana has been middle-of-the-road in 2022-23, though, going 14-13, 8-7 in the Big Sky so far this season.

Ben Howland – The former head coach at Pitt, UCLA and Mississippi State, Howland has as much coaching experience and success as anyone. The issue with Howland is similar to that of Weber: At 65 years old, would he want to deal with the every-day grind of coaching at NMSU, at a much lower salary than he’s used to? A call to him probably should be made, but he doesn’t seem like a likely choice.

Mike Magpayo – Currently the head coach at UC-Riverside, where he’s been in charge since 2020. Magpayo was named Big West Coach of the Year for the 2022-23 season and led the Highlanders to a third place finish in the league as they get ready to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. They’re relatively new to Division I and he has had quick success.

Barry Hinson – Currently an assistant coach at Oklahoma State, Hinson was hired by Moccia at Southern Illinois in 2012. Hinson is 311-241 in his time as a Division I head coach, but has never made the NCAA Tournament. At 61, it might take the right opportunity to coax Hinson into the head coach’s seat again, but his history with Moccia can’t be ignored.

James Miller – The runner-up for the job last spring when NMSU hired Greg Heiar, Miller followed Chris Jans to Mississippi State as the associate head coach after he didn’t get the job. Miller’s ship may have sailed because of that, but he understands NMSU well and could be an option.

Casey Owens – An NMSU graduate and former NMSU Director of Basketball Operations under Chris Jans, Owens was also a head coach for the Los Angeles Lakers G-League affiliate and numerous overseas professional teams, in addition to being an assistant coach for the Lakers themselves. Owens has never been a head coach at the collegiate level, but he does know how NMSU operates. He’s also been overseeing voluntary workouts for current NMSU players approved by the school to participate, but there has been no indication that that makes him a top candidate.