The best memories and staunchest supporters of Gary Colson's eight years as New Mexico head basketball coach mingled with his darkest hour in Albuquerque.
Under a bright New Mexico spring sun, an anguished and tearful Colson announced his resignation Tuesday, ending a sometimes controversial, always spotlighted tenure as head of the most important and lucrative sports program in the state."I am saddened and disappointed by the need for this action," said Colson, adding it was the result of a "basic difference in opinion regarding my ability to lead the UNM basketball program to the next level of success."
Colson would not elaborate beyond his prepared statement, but it was apparent his differences were with his boss, Athletic Director John Koenig.
Koenig, who held a separate news conference, also declined to comment on the meetings between the men in recent days, and as is customary in such transactions, Koenig chose to emphasize the positive side of Colson's stay at New Mexico.
"We appreciate the accomplishments of Gary Colson and his staff in bringing our basketball program to prominence both academically and athletically," said Koenig. "His student athletes have an excellent graduation rate."
So what triggered the separation? Was it that despite an overall 146-106 record, which included three 20-plus win seasons, New Mexico failed to attract an NCAA Tournament bid? Was it Colson's laid-back style of coaching that his critics said failed to instill motivation in talented players? Or was it pressure from boosters some of whom Koenig indicated were willing to foot a third of the $177,000 it will take to buy out the final two years on Colson's contract?
Neither Colson or Koenig would say.
"There definitely were some differences of opinion that we discussed during the negotiation process, but I will leave them on the table," said Koenig.
Colson said earlier he would not seek an automatic extension as he had in previous years. Koenig, however, indicated something definitely went wrong during the post-season evaluation of the program.
"Given the direction the negotiations were going, both Gary and the university felt it was time for him to seek other professional employment," Koenig said.
And while Koenig said the decision was mutual, Colson's emotional farewell indicated otherwise.
"I will miss UNM, I will miss some of the greatest fans anywhere, and most of all I will miss my players," said Colson, who was unable to finish reading his prepared statement.
New Mexico's players, most of them underclassmen, expressed disappointment and resentment at Colson's leaving.
"They get rid of Coach Colson and it's like they get rid of a part of everyone else," said junior point guard Jimmy Rogers.
"He's the cleanest guy around," said freshman guard Rob Robbins, a former standout at Farmington High School who said he signed with New Mexico because of Colson.
"I don't get close to too many people and after two years, I felt we were getting close. I thought we'd do great things," said Robbins, who redshirted his initial season at New Mexico.
Freshman Luc Longley, a 7-foot-1 center from Perth, Australia, said earlier he might transfer if Colson left. Contacted in Australia where he is trying to make that country's Olympic team, Longley reiterated his earlier stand.
"I guess right now I have to take a serious look at what I'm going to do; what my options might be," said Longley.
Colson's resignation also could cause aftershocks in the staff's recruiting efforts. Matt Othick, a senior point guard at Bishop Gorman High School in Nevada who signed with New Mexico, said he too might reconsider his decision.