Lifelong Learner:
With three graduate degrees (and a Ph.D. in the works), this former Aggie aims to make UNM proud

By Leslie Linthicum

 

The University of New Mexico vs. New Mexico State University rivalry was a boon to Paul Weir during the 10 years he worked as a coach for the NMSU men’s basketball team.

“It’s intense and passionate,” Weir says. “I think it’s awesome.”

Weir will be on the other side of the rivalry this season when he coaches his first UNM vs. NMSU game from the Lobo bench. Hired in April as UNM men’s basketball’s 21st head coach, Weir says he hasn’t given any thought to how he’ll approach the game, which is an away game in Las Cruces on Nov. 17, other than to prepare for a win and encourage the UNM community to support the Rio Grande Rivalry.

“I think rivalries are great for sports and they’re great for communities,” says Weir, who, at 38, is making history as the only coach in New Mexico history to serve as head coach for both the Lobos and Aggies basketball teams. “My job now is to fight for UNM.”

We were talking in Weir’s office in the basketball practice center, the same office vacated by Coach Craig Neal when he was let go after the end of a disappointing 2016-17 season.

Just a month into the job, Weir was settling in and his new digs were spare. The walls had been freshly painted a light taupe and the office was empty except for a leather sofa and his “desk”—a long folding table that would look more at home at a backyard birthday party covered in casserole dishes. He had a cell phone, a stack of business cards, some folders, a stapler and a pair of scissors.

“I haven’t really moved in yet,” he says.

Neither had his wife, Alma, a native of Las Cruces, and the couple’s son Theodore who turned 2 in July. They were still camping out in a hotel while looking for houses and Weir was eager to get settled in and embarked on his second New Mexico adventure.

Being a head coach for a Division I team in the United States was never on Weir’s radar when he took up basketball midway through high school in Mississauga, Ontario, a large lakefront suburb of Toronto.

“I played hockey growing up, like most Canadians,” Weir says.

When it became evident he did not have the skills to ever play professionally, he switched his energy to basketball. This was about the time the Toronto Raptors gave Canadians an NBA presence and Weir got hooked on basketball. Either 5 feet 10 or 11 inches tall—he is not sure—he played point guard in high school and at York University in Toronto, where he graduated in 2004 with a liberal arts degree.

“I wanted to be a teacher. That was the goal,” Weir says.

He got a gig coaching basketball at a Catholic high school in Toronto and started looking for a job as a graduate assistant in basketball at a university where he could complete a master’s degree. This was in the days of paper letters and postage stamps and Weir sent out about 1,000 letters of inquiry.

Northwestern State in Louisiana responded with an offer and so Weir headed south.

He received his master’s of science in health and human performance at the end of the year. If he had taken that master’s, turned his car north and found a job teaching high school and coaching boy’s basketball in Canada, Weir thinks he would have been plenty happy.

“I miss it. I miss working with kids of that age, 15, 16,” he says. “It’s a very pure time, an innocent time. They’re just really forming some habits and some personality. They’re still pliable and they’re a little more open. You can impact so much more change on a 15 year old than you can on a 19 year old.”

Instead, he got a call from the University of Iowa and a job offer in Coach Steve Alford’s basketball program. He took it and it was the beginning of a new career.

“I gave up my direction of going back to coach in high school in Toronto and got into college coaching,” Weir says. “I got offered my first real job and I was like, ‘I’m going to give this a shot.’ So I really just kind of fell into it and it’s been a pretty fun ride since.”

Weir started at Iowa as an administrative assistant and was promoted after a year to director of operations. He also embarked on a second master’s degree there, beginning a pattern of seeking and learning that he’s still on today.

“I was always fascinated by the mind and the psychology of sport,” Weir says. “Why people do the things they do. Why they acted the way they do. Just what’s going on inside kids’ heads.”

So, he pursued a master’s of arts in sports psychology, fitting in classes where he could.

“It kept my mind moving. I didn’t want to just be constantly, day in and day out, with my mind only thinking about basketball. I felt like for my own development—just as a human being—that I needed different things to enlighten me.”

Recruited by NMSU as an assistant coach, Weir packed up and moved to Las Cruces, where he finished his Iowa master’s degree online and then got interested in the business school at NMSU.

“I’d always my whole life thought about doing my MBA,” he says. “It was always something I was fascinated by. So I thought, ‘You know what, let me try my MBA.’”

He received his master’s in business administration in 2012, but a bachelor’s of arts and three master’s degrees weren’t quite enough.

Weir became interested in the entirety of universities beyond the athletics department and he enrolled in NMSU’s Ph.D. program in educational leadership. Educational leadership programs usually attract K-12 educators looking to move into administration and university-level employees who are on a career path to dean, provost or college president positions.

“There really wasn’t an end goal in my mind,” Weir says. “I think the more things you’re exposed to the better you are for it. I just found it tremendously valuable.”

He has completed his coursework and will try to write his dissertation while tackling the new job at UNM.

Weir has found that juggling academics with the requirements and pressure of coaching at a Division I school have helped him practice better time management and bring more depth to his day job.

“In time, I realized it made me a better basketball coach,” he says.

His love of learning and his depth as a scholar were on display in April at the news conference where he was introduced as the new Lobo coach. Instead of talking about Xs and Os, Weir quoted the Greek rhetorician Herodes Atticus: “The doubters are just dreamers with broken hearts.” He did so to encourage Lobo fans who might have doubts about the program and its new ex-Aggie coach.

But, he says, that starts with getting some wins on the scoreboard.

“We have to win games,” he says. “ I can have all the greatest theories and intentions and they really don’t matter if we don’t win games.”

Why did he choose to introduce himself with that quote?

“I feel as though there is this belief among people in New Mexico that we’re always trying to prove ourselves. And some people get beaten down a little bit and they start to just think, ‘We can’t do it.’ And so that was just for them, to say we can do great things.”

Weir says he doesn’t know where he picked up the quote.

“I really just read a lot of books,” he says.

To prove the point, Weir has in his hands a little paperback copy of “Roberts Rules of Order,” of all things. He saw it on a table at a meeting recently and thought he might find in it something useful. He is also on an American fiction binge right now, delving into John Updike’s four-novel Rabbit series and picking up some Kurt Vonnegut.

Weir reads on airplanes and at night after his wife and son have nodded off.

Staying busy has always been a Weir family value.

Weir’s mother’s family immigrated to Canada from England when she was in her teens. His father’s family moved from the Ukraine when he was in grade school. (Weir is shortened from the Ukrainian name. Weir’s father changed it to be considered for college admission.) They were older parents and they ran an old-fashioned home.

“I really learned valuable lessons from growing up in that environment,” Weir says. “The value of hard work. Their message was you need to work hard—in school, in sports. It was a strict household. I wasn’t allowed to pierce my ears or get tattoos. At the end of the day you couldn’t just sit around. You have to be busy.”

Weir has translated that work ethic to the court. “Work,” he says. “I really believe that’s where success starts.”

He teaches that and also models it, sometimes to excess.

“I’m consumed with the job and I’ve worked really hard. To be sitting here at my age, I know I’ve missed some funerals back in Canada. I haven’t been able to go back for some events. Maybe I could have been a better son, a better brother, a better husband or parent. Those things are on your conscience. But I have worked really hard and I’m all in it. I’m addicted to it. I love it.”