NMSU Chancellor: Aggie men's basketball 'infected' with a culture of bad behavior

New Mexico State University held a press conference on Feb. 15 to address the firing of Greg Heiar.

Jason Groves
Las Cruces Sun-News

LAS CRUCES ― New Mexico State University officials answered questions for nearly 40 minutes on Wednesday in the wake of an alleged hazing scandal that cost the Aggies' basketball coach Greg Heiar his job.

Chancellor Dan Arvizu and Director of Athletics Mario Moccia addressed the current status of ongoing investigations regarding a November shooting in Albuquerque that involved basketball player Mike Peake, as well as the recent hazing allegations against three basketball players by a teammate.

"It feels like a gut punch," Arvizu said. "As an administrator, a member of the community, a father, I'm both disgusted and angry.

Chancellor Dan Arvizu answers questions about the hazing allegations against the university’s basketball team during a news conference on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, at the Stand Fulton Center.

"We have done an expansive review of the programs and everything that I have learned is that our men's basketball program has been infected with a culture of bad behavior. There have been numerous violations of our student code of conduct and there have been other despicable acts."

Arvizu said that preliminary findings indicate that "infection" was limited to the men's basketball program.

Greg Heiar was fired for cause

Arvizu said Heiar was fired for cause and there was not a settlement with the former coach. The rest of the coaching staff remains on paid leave as of Feb. 15. Assistant coaches are employed via a 1-year contract, each of which expire in April.

Moccia said the current focus is to conclude the ongoing investigations, rather than immediately finding Heiar's replacement.

When asked if he regretted his latest men's basketball hire, Moccia seemed confident in his previous coaching hires.

Greg Heiar fired as NMSU Aggies basketball coach amid athlete hazing investigation

"I regret the outcome, but more than that, I regret what happened to the victim," Moccia said. "We have had an excellent batting average but nobody bats one thousand. We will go back and look at processes, but when I go back and look at the 12 or 14 coaches I have hired as the AD, most have been outstanding in the community, won conference championships with NCAA appearances and a lot of them have left us to go on to greener pastures, financially."

There are 15 clauses under the Fired for Cause section of Heiar's contract worth an annual salary of $300,000. The University must notify the coach in writing, detailing which clause or clauses were violated. That information was not available as of Wednesday, according to a University spokesman.

Under the Termination for Cause section, there are clauses that include:

  • Material, significant or repetitive violation or breach by the coach of the contract, or the rules, University policy, rules or regulations.
  • Failure by coach to respond accurately and fully, within a reasonable time to any reasonable request or inquiry by University, NCAA, or the Conference … relating to the performance of his duties while serving as coach for the university.
  • Counseling or instructing by coach of any person to fail to respond accurately and fully within a reasonable time to any reasonable request or inquiry concerning a matter relevant to University athletic programs.
  • Failure by coach to report promptly to the Director any violations known to the coach.
  • Commission of, or participation in, … any act, situation, or occurrence which in University's reasonable judgement, brings Coach into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule.

Arvizu said Heiar had obtained legal counsel and did not appear at a scheduled hearing which was part of the Rodey Law Firm's investigation of the November shooting in Albuquerque that involved Aggie player Mike Peake. There are ongoing disciplinary hearings for student athletes who were involved, Arvizu said.

"In the context of that, we have looked at all of the surrounding evidence to essentially bolster our case for the termination of the coach and in that context, that decision was made based on the information we have at the current time."

Police reports released on Sunday alleged that three players had assaulted another player repeatedly since the summer. The hazing incidents are being investigated by the Office of Institutional Equity. No criminal charges have been filed related to the accusations.

Arvizu would not disclose if additional hazing incidents were reported to the University. He said he was unaware of the alleged assaults until the latest incident was reported to New Mexico State University Police on Feb. 10.

"It's the process that has given me pause to say, why not," Arvizu said.

Moccia retains university confidence as leader of athletic department

Despite the failed hire of Heiar, Moccia retained the backing of Arvizu who pointed to the success of other athletic coaches hired by Moccia.

"We have had a tremendous run on hiring very successful head coaches. However, it obviously did not work out in this setting," Moccia said. "There are limits to what a head coach can actually do. Ultimately that falls under their purview. And that ultimately falls under my purview. … Sometimes it just does not work out."

According to a University spokesman, officials reported issues through the proper channels when they were made aware of them.

NMSU Director of Athletics Mario Moccia answers questions about the hazing allegations against the university’s basketball team during a news conference on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, at the Stand Fulton Center.

"Mario has been extremely transparent to me about all things that he knew and when he knew them and we have been in constant contact about the various things that we had control of and those things that were coming our way," Arvizu said. "He still has my complete confidence to turn this program around. Clearly there are issues that we need to see why did it take so long to understand there was an issue. … I think there is plenty of evidence to support that this incident or set of incidents is contained in the men's basketball program, primarily a coach responsibility but the oversight of that is in question and we will continue to look at that moving forward."

When asked if there would be increased university oversight of the athletic department, Arvizu said, "There will certainly be improvements in our processes and the way in which we hold ourselves accountable to ensure that our students' safety is our top priority and that the integrity of our program is sound."

That future oversight may include a sharper eye on what otherwise may appear to be harmless actions, like breaking curfew, which is prohibited in the school's code of conduct. In the hours leading up to the shooting in Albuquerque, multiple Aggie players broke curfew, including Peake and teammates Issa Muhammad, Anthony Roy and Marchelus Avery, who arrived on the scene, but left prior to the arrival of law enforcement.

"We will re-double our efforts for violation of student and coach conduct," Arvizu said. "Those kinds of things that maybe coaches inclined to look the other way are no longer tolerated at this institution."

Watch the full press conference here:

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Jason Groves can be reached at 575-541-5459 or jgroves@lcsun-news.com. Follow him on Twitter @jpgroves.

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