LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- Louisville coach Rick Pitino predicts
Reggie Theus will soon be one of college basketball's dynamic head
New Mexico State University is banking on it.
The Theus era officially began Monday when NMSU introduced the
soon-to-be Pitino former assistant as the Aggies' new head coach.
"He has the total package," Pitino, who has Louisville in the
Final Four, said in a prepared statement issued by NMSU. "He's got
great charisma, is a terrific teacher and he has two of the most
important things it takes to be a head coach: he's very dedicated
and he can bring in great players."
What Theus doesn't have is a long resume of major college
coaching. But neither the Aggies nor Theus think that will be a
Theus said the two seasons he spent as Pitino's chief recruiter
have prepared him for his first Division I head coaching job and he
plans to borrow from Pitino's play book.
"I'll be taking a page out of a lot of his books," Theus said.
Theus made a quick stop in Las Cruces Monday for the official
announcement of his hiring. He planned to leave later Monday to
rejoin Louisville as it prepares for the national semifinal game
against Illinois on Saturday in St. Louis.
"It's been a great week. I've gone through a gamut of
emotions," Theus said. "It's been an unbelievable journey to get
Theus, 47, said he's looking at several candidates as
assistants, but for the moment his mind is elsewhere.
"Right now my task at hand is to help the University of
Louisville win a national championship," Theus said.
The former NBA All-Star with the Chicago Bulls said he is
confident he can restore the NMSU program to the level it reached
in the early 1970s under former coach Lou Henson and in the early
1990s under Neil McCarthy.
Theus said he has been assured by the school's leadership that
he will get the support he needs.
"We don't want ordinary players, we want extraordinary
people," Theus said. "Back when I was playing [with UNLV] this
school had a great reputation."
Henson, who retired in January after not being able to coach
this past season because of health problems, turned around a
mediocre program in the late 1960s and led the Aggies to a Final
Four in 1970.
McCarthy, who ultimately was fired prior to the 1997-98 season,
took the Aggies to five straight NCAA Tournaments from 1990 through
1994. Included in that run was a trip to the round of 16, where the
Aggies lost to UCLA in the regional semifinals in Albuquerque.
During that five-year period, the Aggies went 123-35 under
Henson, who had just finished spending 21 years at Illinois, was
rehired following McCarthy's ouster.
Henson led the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament in 1999, when they
lost to Kentucky in the first round.
NMSU is coming off back-to-back losing seasons, including a 6-24
record last season under interim coach Tony Stubblefield. That is
the Aggies' worst season since 1966, the year before Henson
initially took over the program.
Stubblefield took over after Henson contracted viral
encephalitis last September and became partially paralyzed. Henson
was 21 wins shy of becoming only the fifth coach in Division I
history to win 800 games.
"We're on a journey that's committed to excellence in
everything we do," school athletics director McKinley Boston said
of the school's latest hire. NMSU hired Hal Mumme, former coach at
Kentucky, as its head football coach in December.
Theus was given a five-year base contract with a salary of
$189,000, which with other benefits kicks it up to a guaranteed
$230,000 a year.
Theus, who confirmed Saturday night that he had accepted the
NMSU job, joined Pitino's staff in 2003. Before that he was a
volunteer assistant for a year at Cal State Los Angeles. He also
was head coach of the Las Vegas Slam of the ABA during the 2002
Theus, who played for Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV from 1976-78,
spent 13 years in the NBA with Chicago, Kansas City, Sacramento,
Atlanta, Orlando and New Jersey. He was a two-time All-Star with
the Bulls in 1981 and 1983 and is one of only five players in NBA
history to score at least 19,000 points and have at least 6,000
Theus said he plans to employ an up-tempo offense and full-court
pressure defense. He also promised plenty of discipline.
"There has to be a balance of tough love and hugs. A pat on the
back and a kick in the butt," he said.