Craig Neal out as New Mexico hoops coach after 4 seasons

New Mexico head coach Craig Neal watched his team play during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Fresno State in the Mountain West Conference tournament Thursday, March 9, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) After four years as head coach and 10 overall with New Mexico, Craig Neal and the Lobos have parted ways.

”He’s a good man and a winning coach, but the time has come to move Lobo Basketball in a new direction,” athletic director Paul Krebs said in a statement late Friday from the Final Four in Glendale, Arizona.

He said a search for a successor begins immediately.

The move comes just three weeks after Krebs had given Neal a vote of confidence following the Lobos’ loss in the Mountain West Conference quarterfinals.

”In order to end speculation, I’m announcing that Craig Neal will return and coach the men’s basketball team next season,” Krebs wrote in a statement on March 10.

But in the ensuing weeks, four players with eligibility remaining – three of whom were considered starters, including preseason Mountain West player of the year Elijah Brown – announced they were transferring.

”The decision made late (Friday) comes after lengthy consideration in light of recent developments that cannot be ignored,” acting New Mexico President Chaouki Abdallah said.

Neal, who could not immediately be reached for comment, joined the New Mexico program 10 years ago, acting as Steve Alford’s associate head coach. When Alford left for UCLA, Neal took over.

He led the Lobos to a conference tournament championship and the NCAA Tournament in his first season, before losing in the first round. In each of the subsequent seasons, the Lobos were eliminated from the conference tournament in the first game and did not make the NCAA or NIT tournaments. Neal finishes with a 76-52 record, including 42-30 in conference play.

His contract, which was extended following his first season, was to run through the 2019-20 season, included a $1 million buyout that called for him to be paid the remainder of the contract year’s base salary of $300,000 if the school fired him. The contract year starts on April 1.

Before New Mexico, Neal spent four seasons as an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors, followed by three seasons as the associate head coach at the University of Iowa.