UNM recently went through a change in presidential leadership and NMSU just lost their president. They have had eight people in the president’s office in just sixteen years. That said from the 1920s to 1980s both the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University had stable leadership. In fact, both institutions had a run of forty years with just three presidents each.
NMSU’s first president was fired when the political makeup of the board changed by one member out of five. Hiram Hadley was one political vote on the wrong side and only served four years from 1890 to 1894. But my personal favorite “interesting” president was UNM’s Bud Davis.
It is not often that university presidents get embroiled in duck ponds and fist fights during basketball games, but President Davis was not ordinary. When Davis became president in 1975, a project was started that burned up the university community. The plan was to take 160 of the very best parking spaces near the administration building and the library and turn that whole space into a duck pond and commons area. Oh, my.
There were rude songs, “Bud’s duck pond,” and some even worse. The parking was taken immediately while the project progressed slowly as exasperated drivers boiled over. Bud Davis put much of his political capital into the duck pond and I may be the absolute last person who remembers him as building the duck pond. Oh, he had a few bad moments that people still remember like when he punched out a loud basketball fan from the opposing team and it created quite a stir. Davis had a punch on him but few appreciated a president handy with his fists. Well, I did because it was refreshing and I liked him.
Know this today in 2012, if you want a beating just say to anyone at UNM that they should take that wonderful duck pond and turn it into 160 parking spaces. Yep, a beating would be laid on you. Yet no one remembers all of the grief that Bud Davis went through to create the duck pond.
This last weekend I had the honor of seeing former NMSU Basketball coach Reggie Theus at the opening of a sporting goods store in Las Cruces. Forty-five years ago during my first year around NMSU I met the last great man of sports at NMSU until Theus, Warren Woodson. That was 1967 and he was at a high school game being played in the university stadium.
Reggie Theus took over the basketball program for two years, leaving in 2007. But in those two years he brought life into the athletic department and filled the basketball arena. How? Well, we fans just liked him and he was quite a show to see. His players did what he said or they faced an unhappy Theus, which seemed to get their complete attention. The team played interestingly and had success and then he left.
Former Coach Theus reminded me that NMSU is just one coach away from success, but that coach has to be the real deal to turn the program around. That is what Warren Woodson and Reggie Theus showed the NMSU community. Currently UNM head football coach Bob Davie is likewise enchanting the fans.
What both the UNM and the NMSU communities know is that getting a good leader in the president’s office and guiding the sports program is ever so much better than what has been done for decades. These other leaders were all fine people but they did not inspire the community.
In my conversation with Theus I asked what job would he take back in New Mexico. He laughed and said how much he enjoyed his time here. I could not pin him down. Shuckins!
Dr. Michael Swickard is co-host of radio talk show News New Mexico 6 to 9 a.m. Monday - Friday on a number of New Mexico radio stations and through streaming. Email: email@example.com