LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KTSM) – Sam Houston head coach Jason Hooten has emerged as a favorite for the New Mexico State men’s basketball coaching opening, sources told KTSM on Monday.
While Hooten has not yet been named the Aggies new head coach and there are still some aspects that must be ironed out, it is trending towards Hooten being officially hired at some point this week by the Aggies.
Sources confirmed to KTSM on Tuesday that Hooten and members of his family would be in Las Cruces this week to see the school. A final decision could be imminent; however, a contract has not been finalized. NMSU says the search is still ongoing and no press conference has been scheduled.
NMSU officials flew to Huntsville, Texas, last week on a university plane to discuss with Hooten the possibility of him being the head coach, but no decision was made at that time, per sources close to the situation.
Hooten makes $232,000 per season at Sam Houston and has two years remaining on his current contract. That would theoretically make any potential buyout for him manageable. Multiple sources told KTSM that NMSU is looking to pay its next head coach upwards of $400,000 per season for five years.
Hooten is one of a few candidates that NMSU has interviewed and that KTSM identified last week as a possibility for the Aggies. Every coach that NMSU has identified as a possibility during this cycle is a current or former Division I head coach, and Hooten would fit that description.
Hooten has been at Sam Houston since 2004 and has been the head coach since 2010. He has a record of 261-169 in 13 seasons with the Bearkats. He has never held another head coaching job, but consistently has had Sam Houston in the top four of the conference standings.
In 2022-23, Hooten led the Bearkats to a 26-8 record and were the top seed in the WAC Tournament, before bowing out in the conference tournament semifinals. Hooten’s squad then won a game in the NIT, before losing to North Texas in the second round of the tournament. The 26 wins was tied for the most the Bearkats have had under Hooten.
Traditionally a very difficult place to win, Sam Houston has just two trips to the Division I NCAA Tournament in program history, in 2003 and 2010 (when Hooten was an assistant coach).
Hooten has won over 60% of his games at SHSU, but has never made the NCAA Tournament, which is the main knock against him. However, the idea is that he’ll come into NMSU, clean up the program and get the Aggies back on track towards success.
Including trips to the NIT and CIT, Hooten’s teams are 5-7 all-time in postseason appearances. The Bearkats won the Southland Conference regular season title in 2018-19.
In his nearly-20 years at Sam Houston, Hooten has seemingly run a clean program, something that has been important to NMSU and its search firm in its current coaching search after a scandal-ridden 2022-23 campaign under former head coach Greg Heiar.
The first scandal was a deadly shooting in Albuquerque on Nov. 19, 2022, involving NMSU basketball player Mike Peake and four UNM students. Peake was assaulted on UNM’s campus the night before the Battle of I-25 basketball game, then he and 19-year-old Brandon Travis were involved in a gunfight, with Peake firing back in self-defense and killing Travis, according to police.
Peake was shot in the leg during the altercation, which was allegedly a revenge plot for a fight involving Peake and the UNM students at the Oct. 15 UNM-NMSU football game in Las Cruces. The three other UNM students have all been charged with crimes in relation to the shooting; no one involved with NMSU have been charged.
The second scandal eventually forced Heiar’s termination on Feb. 14, as an NMSU player went to campus police alleging that three of his teammates had been hazing him since last summer. Heiar was fired, the season was cancelled and all of his assistants were placed on paid administrative leave.
Sam Houston and New Mexico State will both compete in Conference USA for the first time during the 2023-24 season.