New Mexico hires Craig Neal

Updated: April 2, 2013, 10:03 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

New Mexico has hired Craig "Noodles" Neal to replace his close friend Steve Alford as coach of the Lobos.

Neal will sign a five-year contract worth $750,000 annually, plus incentives. The deal will make Neal one of the four highest-paid coaches in the Mountain West Conference.

New Mexico will hold a news conference to announce Neal as coach Wednesday, four days after Alford left the Lobos to accept the coaching job at UCLA. Alford was introduced at UCLA on Tuesday.

Neal was the overwhelming choice by the players and Alford to succeed him. Neal said privately that he was confident the five starters would return if he were named coach.

The Lobos return key players Tony Snell, Alex Kirk and Mountain West Conference player of the year Kendall Williams.

The Lobos won the Mountain West Conference regular-season and conference tournament titles this past season but were upset by 14th-seeded Harvard in the NCAA tournament's round of 64.

Neal was with Alford at Iowa and the past six seasons at New Mexico, and was considered a co-architect of the Lobos' resurgence. Neal was a finalist with Brian Gregory a year ago for his alma mater, Georgia Tech.

This will be Neal's first head-coaching job in Division I.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com