New Mexico State fires Samuel, staff

Updated: November 24, 2004, 3:05 PM ET
Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- New Mexico State coach Tony Samuel was fired Wednesday after leading the Aggies to just two winning seasons in eight years.

The Aggies finished 5-6 this season, including 4-3 in the Sun Belt Conference. They will move to the Western Athletic Conference next season.

With Samuel out and Fitz Hill resigning from San Jose State earlier this week, there are now only three black head coaches in Division I-A: Karl Dorrell at UCLA, Tyrone Willingham at Notre Dame and Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State.

New Mexico State athletic director Brian Faison said management issues, academics and the team's competitiveness were all factors in the decision, which he said was reached Tuesday night. Samuel said Faison gave him the news Wednesday morning.

"There wasn't any one factor, there wasn't any one game, there wasn't any one season," Faison said.

Faison said Samuel had done a good job of bringing NMSU's program "to another level," but added: "The reality is we are moving to another level of competition. I think you're going to go after a coach that brings strong recruiting to the table."

The Aggies' 15 conference wins in the last four seasons are the most for the school since an 11-win run from 1936 to 1938. Two years ago, NMSU finished 7-5 -- the most wins in a season since 1967 -- and just missed winning the Sun Belt title.

"We've done things that weren't done here before," said Samuel, who was a longtime Nebraska assistant before taking over at New Mexico State in 1997.

The Aggies had only two winning seasons in the 27 years before Samuel was coach. He ranks third in career victories at NMSU with 34.

Faison said the decision not to renew the contracts was not reached easily.

"I think Tony had a chance, I think resources are an issue," he said. "We have got to go out and we've got to do a better job of providing resources for our coaches to compete."

NMSU has a program "with all the potential in the world," Samuel said.

"Hopefully the next guy gets some of the things that I wanted," he said.

The Aggies have not gone to a bowl game since 1960, and only a Sun Belt Conference title would have ended that drought.

Samuel said he feels no animosity for whoever will take his place.

"I'm going to help him as much as I can because eight years of my life have been put into this," he said. "I want to see this program succeed."

Faison said NMSU had not contacted any possible successors to Samuel, but "we'll move quickly at this point."

Faison, promoted to assistant vice president for athletic development to help Aggie fund-raising, said NMSU hopes to hire a new athletic director before hiring a new coach. The search for a new athletic director is continuing.

Aggie quarterback Buck Pierce, a senior, said the decision was tough to hear.

"You're with them [coaches] through the blood, sweat and tears," he said. "It's a very emotional time for me and a lot of other players."

Samuel said he hasn't had time to map out any definite plan for the future.

"I'll be coaching somewhere," Samuel said. "That's the best I can tell you right now."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press