Log In

Reset Password

Fired New Mexico State basketball coach says he was made the scapegoat for toxic culture

New Mexico State coach Greg Heiar watches players during a game Nov. 2, 2022, in Las Cruces. Heiar said in a document released Aug. 3 that he was made the scapegoat for hazing and other problems that administrators chose to ignore. Meg Potter/The Las Cruces Sun News
University ignored ‘cultural dysfunction,’ Heiar says

LAS CRUCES – Former New Mexico State University basketball coach Greg Heiar says he was made the scapegoat for hazing and other problems that administrators chose to ignore and that he has suffered mental anguish and emotional distress since being fired by the university.

He outlined the claims in a document related to an arbitration case in which he alleges that the university wrongfully fired him without cause, violated his due process rights and breached its contract.

He contends that Athletic Director Mario Moccia and former Chancellor Dan Arvizu fired him “in order create their own self-serving narrative with the public and make (him) the scapegoat for all of the issues and cultural dysfunction within the university that NMSU had ignored."

The university responded with its own filing, denying the allegations that Heiar was wrongfully fired and that there were cultural problems at NMSU.

The university released the documents Thursday following a report by ESPN, which first obtained the documents. An arbitration hearing between the parties is expected to begin next year.

Heiar was dismissed from NMSU in February following hazing allegations within the team that shut down the program for the season. The Aggies were 9-15 overall and 2-10 in the Western Athletic Conference when the season was stopped.

New Mexico State agreed to pay $8 million to settle a lawsuit involving two basketball players who said they were sexually assaulted by teammates, according to state records released last month.

The Aggies always were able to make a name for themselves every March thanks to a men’s basketball program that traditionally thrived on the strength of players and coaches who didn’t always take the traditional route to Division I. But this year, the program disintegrated.

The unraveling can be traced to an NMSU football game last Oct. 15 in which a handful of the school’s basketball players got into a brawl with students from rival University of New Mexico. Video of the melee shows junior forward Mike Peake among those throwing punches.

Weeks later, the players headed to Albuquerque for one of the season’s most anticipated games, against the Lobos. Peake broke curfew and went to a dormitory complex to meet a girl. It ended up being an ambush by one of the students involved in the brawl.

Video from the apartment parking lot shows Peake being attacked with a baseball bat before exchanging gunfire with UNM student Brandon Travis. Peake was taken to the hospital with leg wounds that required surgery. Travis died from his gunshot wounds.

The hazing allegations followed, with Heiar saying he was unaware and that it wasn't until a month later that he was told about an investigation attached to those accusations. In its response, the school said it could not inform Heiar or any coaches about the allegations due to Title IX and school policies.

New Mexico-based Danoff Law Firm, which represents Heiar, said in the arbitration document that NMSU and its athletic department were willing to do whatever it took to continue to win, put fans in the stands, and earn national recognition with conference championships and NCAA tournament appearances, even thought that meant “creating and fostering a toxic and secretive culture where allegations of misconduct and inappropriate behavior were often ignored or swept under the rug.”

Heiar's attorneys also alleged that Moccia and his superiors seized control of the program and would not allow the coach to discipline players.

The university's attorneys disputed those allegations in their response, which was filed in early July.

That document states that Heiar “was given an opportunity to ask questions regarding NMSU, the NMSU basketball players, and any perceived compliance issues during his initial interview at NMSU and failed to ask those questions he now wishes to fault NMSU for not furnishing prior to the initiation of his employment.”

Heiar recently was hired to coach Mineral Area College, a junior college in Missouri. That school has said it was aware of the litigation involving Heiar and NMSU and considered the litigation and related allegations during the hiring process.

The parking spot for Greg Heiar, former New Mexico State University men's basketball coach, shows a reserved sign outside the Pan American Center, Feb. 15, 2023, in Las Cruces. (Andrés Leighton/The Associated Press)