Craig Neal will enter his second season as the head coach of the New Mexico Lobos, and it will be his eighth year overall at the university, after spending six years as New Mexico's Associate Head Coach. Neal was named the 20th head coach of the Lobos on April 2, 2013, and was introduced to a pack house of media members and fans a day later. Neal was the right-hand man of former coach Steve Alford for the past six years at New Mexico, and the previous three years before UNM at the University of Iowa.
In his first year, all Neal did was become the first rookie coach in UNM history to lead the team to the NCAA Tournament in his first year, breaking the record for wins by a rookie head coachwith 27, as the Lobos went 27-7. The 27 wins were not only the best by a rookie head coach, but the fifth-most in school history.
Neal also became the first UNM rookie head coach to led a team to a conference tournament title as UNM won its third straight Mountain West Tournament. The Lobos are now the only team in league history to win three straight tournament titles.
He was a finalist for a pair of national coaching honors: the Joe B. Hall Award as the nation's top rookie coach, and the Jim Phelan Award for national coach of the year.
The season just adds to Neal's growing collegiate resume' In his now 10 years in college basketball, Neal's teams at UNM and Iowa have averaged 24.5 wins per year with nine seasons of 20 wins or more and nine postseason berths, including six trips to the NCAA Tournament.
UNM was nationally ranked in the preseason for the first time since the 1999 season, and the Lobos finished the season ranked No. 17 in the AP poll and as the first team receiving votes in the Coaches Poll. UNM also went 2-2 against nationally ranked teams in 2013-14, including a 2-1 record against the top-10.
After his first season, Neal was given a two-year extension after the season by Vice President of Athletics Paul Krebs, and is now signed through the 2019-20 season.
At his introductory press conference, Neal stated, "I'm truly honored to be the head coach at the University of New Mexico. Over the past six years my family and I have been overwhelmed by the support we have received in this community. Coach Alford allowed me the opportunity to really make an impact on this program, and I'm excited to continue building on what we started six years ago."
"We are excited that Craig Neal will be our next basketball coach," said Krebs. "We did a tremendous amount of work and research in a very short time. Craig was a major part of a staff that has not only won championships but graduated student-athletes, raised our academics to record levels, and poured a tremendous amount of energy into our community in the form of service projects. Craig probably had as much freedom with our program in making decisions as any associate head coach in the country, and his time working with Coach Alford has prepared him fully for this task."
Said President Robert Frank, "Coach Neal understands what being a Lobo is all about. He impressed me with his vision, dedication, and passion for leading here."
Known throughout the college basketball landscape as "Noodles", a nickname he received in high school due to his thin stature, Neal had been actively involved in all facets of the program in his six years as associate head coach, from on-the-floor coaching to all of the behind-the-scenes work for a major college basketball program. Neal is considered one of the finest tactical coaches in the nation, as his diverse background in the collegiate and professional ranks afforded him a chance to learn and coach on many stages. Neal is heavily involved in the UNM offensive setup, and he is well respected nationally for his recruiting ability, game strategy, and knowledge of the game.
The Lobos flourished with Neal in the associate head coach role, winning 155 games over those six seasons, the most successful six-year period in school history. Neal, who handled the offense for the Lobos, has helped New Mexico consistently finish at the top of the conference in most offensive statistics.
The Lobos have finished in the top four in scoring offense in each of the past seven seasons, and in top four in both scoring margin and field goal percentage. UNM has also finished in the top four in assists in all six years, and in the top three in assist-turnover ratio as well.
With New Mexico Neal has been a part of four of the five of the winningest teams in school history, as the 2009-10 team won a school record 30 games, the 2012-13 team won 29 games, and the 2011-12 team tied for the third-most wins in school history with 28. WIth him at the helm, UNM won 27 last season.
Iowa posted a 63-35 record while Neal was on staff, including consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes won 25 games in 2005-06, the second highest total in school history. They also captured the Big Ten Conference tournament title, set a school record with 10 wins over top 25 opponents and ran off a school-record 18-game winning streak in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, winning all 17 home games in 2005-06. Neal was instrumental in Iowa's recruiting efforts. More than one publication ranked the 2006-07 class as one of the top 10 catches in the nation.
Neal served as an assistant coach with the Raptors from 2000-03 and was involved in scouting and player development in 2003-04. With Toronto he served under Lenny Wilkens, the winningest coach in NBA history. He was also a Toronto scout for four seasons before becoming an assistant coach in 2000.
Neal was a scout in North America and Europe for one year before joining the Iowa staff, scouting high school, junior college, college and European players for the NBA Draft and for trade possibilities. He was also involved with development of current roster players, recruiting of free agents and selecting players for summer league and training camps.
As an assistant coach from 2000-03, Neal was involved with practice preparation, advance scouting, and the preparation and implementation of opponent scouting reports. He managed and directed Toronto's player development program, both during the season and the summer. Neal coached Toronto's summer league team for three years and was the lead coach in directing all Raptor college pre-draft workouts. His duties also included assisting with the operations budget, working with advance scouting team and coordinating schedules for Toronto scouts.
Neal was a two-year starter at Georgia Tech in the mid-1980s. He earned all-Atlantic Coast Conference honors as a senior in 1988 when he set the ACC single-season record with 303 assists. Neal's playing career at Tech spanned five seasons, as he was limited to just four games in 1984-85 due to injury. He averaged 7.7 points as a senior. Neal averaged a league-best 9.5 assists per game (11.6 in conference games) that season, which still stands as a single-season record at Georgia Tech. His 659 career assists was a school record at the time and now ranks third best at Tech. Neal's 5.2 career assist average is fourth best at Tech and his 127 career steals is the 11th best total at the school.
Neal was a member of five Yellow Jacket teams that advanced to postseason play, including an NIT appearance in 1984 and NCAA Tournament berths the following four years. Tech advanced to the regional final in 1985 before losing to top-seed Georgetown, and the Sweet Sixteen in 1986. After a first round loss in 1987, Georgia Tech defeated Iowa State in 1988 before falling to Richmond in the second round. Neal earned his bachelor's degree in management from Georgia Tech in 1988.
The native of Washington, Ind., played prep basketball at Washington High School, for his father, Stan. Craig earned all-America recognition and was a member of the Indiana All-Star team following his senior year in 1983. Neal played eight professional seasons in the NBA, CBA and Europe, beginning in Portland where he was a third-round draft pick of the Blazers in 1988. He also played in Miami and Denver in the NBA and played in three championship series while competing in the CBA. Neal served as a player and coach in his final season in the CBA (1994-95) before joining the Toronto organization. He was involved in professional basketball for 16 years.
Neal was involved with the NBA's Team Up community service program in Toronto. He founded the Craig Neal/Grant Delagrange benefit golf tournament in Fort Wayne, Ind., with proceeds dedicated to schools for autistic and Down Syndrome children.
Neal was born February 16, 1964. He and his wife, Janet, have two sons, Cullen and Dalton.