By EDDIE PELLS
AP National Writer
New Mexico State fired basketball coach Greg Heiar on Tuesday in the wake of hazing allegations within the team that shut down the program for the rest of the season.
Chancellor Dan Arvizu announced the firing of the first-year coach and said “hazing has no place on our campus, and those found responsible will be held accountable for their actions.”
The chancellor said decisions about the rest of the coaching staff will be made after further investigation.
Arvizu shut down the program for the season on Sunday, after reviewing a campus police report in which an Aggies player said three teammates ganged up on him and attacked him. The report, which redacted the names of the players, included allegations of false imprisonment, harassment and criminal sexual contact.
The 47-year-old Heiar spent time earlier in his career as an assistant for former Aggies coach Chris Jans, who left after last season to coach Mississippi State. Last season, Heiar was at Northwest Florida State, where he helped the Raiders win the junior college national title.
He brought two highly ranked players with him from the juco ranks, Issa Muhammad and Deshawndre Washington (another player, Marchelus Avery, had moved over from Northwest Florida the season before), but the Aggies were riddled with problems almost from the start of their season.
It started unraveling when some basketball players were involved in a fight with New Mexico students at an Aggies football game in October.
A month later, the night before New Mexico State basketball was scheduled to play at New Mexico in Albuquerque, forward Mike Peake went to the apartment complex of one of the students involved in the fight. Security cameras at the apartment complex shows the student pulling a gun, then Peake brandishing own gun and shooting the student, inflicting fatal wounds. Peake was taken to the hospital with leg wounds.
Peake has been suspended from the team but not charged with a crime while authorities in Albuquerque investigate. New Mexico State has hired an independent investigator to look into the circumstances surrounding the killing.
The hazing allegations came less than three months after the shooting in Albuquerque. The police report says the hazing victim described teammates removing “his clothing exposing his buttocks and began to slap his (buttocks). He also went on to state that they also touched his scrotum.”
The Aggies were 9-15 when the season was first put on hold before a scheduled game last Saturday at California Baptist.
The Western Athletic Conference is counting New Mexico State’s final six games as forfeits. The team is supposed to move into the bigger, more high-profile Conference USA next season — a move that seemed like a good fit for a program that has a long tradition of strong basketball teams. New Mexico State has made 26 trips to the NCAA Tournament and reached the Sweet 16 five times.
But there have also been problems checkered throughout the history of a program that has long depended on juco transfers and players looking for second chances. An academic scandal in the 1990s brought about the quick end to the otherwise successful tenure of coach Neil McCarthy. It led to relative stability during the second of two long tenures in Las Cruces by coaching stalwart Lou Henson.
Most of Henson’s successors, including Marvin Menzies, Reggie Theus and Jans, enjoyed success before leaving for bigger opportunities.
There has been similar turnover in the administration. Just over the past 14 months, the university provost and president have resigned or been removed from their positions. And Arivzu, the chancellor, is on his way out in June after the regents declined to renew his contract. He said the school will investigate the hazing allegations.
“We will work to ensure we fully understand what happened here, and that those found responsible are held accountable,” he said. “We will also ensure that support systems are in place to prevent this from happening again.”
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