ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - In a ceremony at the Albuquerque city council meant to honor UNM basketball's top 10 regular season, councilor Brad Winter may have spoken for a lot of Lobo fans.
"Coach Neal I don't want to be political, but I hope UNM does the right thing and makes you the head coach," Winter said, followed by big applause from the crowd.
Craig Neal is UNM's interim coach and was the Lobos' associate coach for Steve Alford's six years at the helm in Albuquerque. The long-time number two man may be best positioned to slide into the top spot at UNM, despite a standing offer from Alford to join him at UCLA .
"I want to be the head coach here," Neal said. "I could've easily went to UCLA with Coach but you know I've kind of left my heart here on my sleeve so I'm trying to do the best I can and hopefully I get the job."
Neal has been in high demand in recent years. He was nearly poached by the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks as an assistant coach in 2008. His alma mater Georgia Tech considered him for their open job in 2011. Colorado State came knocking last year before picking Larry Eustachy.
Neal says he's ready for the top job at UNM.
"I spent 10 years in the NBA I worked with the winningest coach of all time with Lenny Wilkins," Neal said. "I've played at the highest level, I've coached at the highest level, I've been Steve's right hand man."
Neal also may be the only coach that can keep Lobo center Alex Kirk and guard Tony Snell from bolting.
"I think with Coach Neal, if Coach Neal got the job I think there'd be a chance to try to keep everything together," Kirk said at a Saturday press conference .
"The only way you can keep a program like this going is continuity and I'm the guy that can keep that going," Neal said.
The man who will make the final call is UNM athletic director Paul Krebs.
Through a UNM basketball spokesman, Krebs declined to comment on names of other candidates for the Lobo job or the school's timeline to fill the job. He did admit Neal has played a major role in his time with the school.
"If you've been around the program the last six years it's not hard to understand that Coach Neal has had a strong impact on the program," Krebs said at Saturday's press conference.
With recruiting opening back up April 11, UNM may have to make up its mind sooner rather than later.
Neal was a standout college point guard at Georgia Tech before playing a relatively brief NBA career with the Portland Trail Blazers, Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets.
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