By Kevin Wilson
On the heels of a major hire for its athletic program, Eastern New Mexico University got a major vacancy.
Men’s basketball coach Andrew Helton has resigned from the university for personal reasons, effective next Friday. Helton, a first-time head coach when he was hired by ENMU in 2009, leaves the school with a 63-72 mark, 36-40 in the Lone Star Conference.
The announcement from the university comes on the same day it announced it filled its vacant women’s soccer coaching position with longtime West Texas A&M assistant Omar Morales.
Helton told ENMU Athletic Director Jeff Geiser Tuesday morning of the decision he’d wrestled with the last few weeks. He said out-of-state family members are going through some issues and declined to elaborate.
He is still working out the details for when he leaves Portales, and said he’d like to coach again when other issues are resolved.
Geiser said by no means was Helton asked to resign, and the news came as a “total surprise” to him.
“Yesterday morning, I thought we were doing an evaluation,” Geiser said. “I did try to talk him out of it. I made him some offers as far as other possibilities.
“Certainly, Coach Helton could have coached here for as long as he wanted.”
Helton called his tenure positive on balance, and that he got better treatment than he could ask for from his players, the college’s administration and the community as a whole.
“If I could have done it all over again,” Helton said, “I would have.”
In what would be his final season, the Greyhounds had a year of nailbiters and heartbreakers. The team went 14-13 with a 7-7 LSC record, including four LSC losses by two or fewer points.
“I feel good about a lot of the stuff we were able to do,” Helton said. “I feel like the program really improved. There’s a lot of excitement with it. You wish there were a couple games it could have went the other way, but I’m happy with it. The league was very very good, particularly this year.”
When Helton leaves, assistant Stott Carter will take over day-to-day duties until a replacement is found — or, Helton hopes, a little longer.
“I very much hope he gets an opportunity to talk about the job,” Helton said of Carter. “Obviously, it’s not my decision to make, but he’s done a great job for us.”
Geiser said no decision has been made on conducting a national search for Helton’s replacement, like the one used to hire Morales.
Morales, a former WT soccer player, served as a graduate assistant for the men’s and women’s soccer programs during the 2006-2009 seasons, before his promotion to men’s assistant coach prior to the 2010 season. During his time with the women’s program, the Lady Buffs won back-to-back Lone Star Conference championships and reached the NCAA Division II quarterfinals in 2009.
“We pulled off a real coup in hiring Coach Morales,” Geiser said.