Written By: Walter Hines
Author's Note: Update on Ex-NMSU AD Brian Faison
I wrote the piece below in 2004 for a sports forum run by Jimmy Hester, a UNM booster that I had befriended and introduced to Faison at an Aggie-Lobo football game in Las Cruces in 2003. Faison left NMSU in May 2008 to become AD at North Dakota a while after Mike Martin became the NMSU President and hired Dr. McKinley Boston as AD. He’s led Fighting Sioux athletics into a new conference, the Big Sky, D-1 status in football and 13 other sports, and facility improvements and increased budget. He’s received praise from the North Dakota administration and alumni.
Unfortunately for Faison, controversy not of his own making continues to dog him. There was an extended battle, in which he remained a reasoned, neutral leader, about whether to drop the school’s Fighting Sioux moniker. Many Sioux in North Dakota said they were honored by the name, but one tribe was dead set against it. The NCAA intervened and political correctness won out, despite intense efforts by the North Dakota legislature to retain Fighting Sioux. A statewide vote resulted in citizens approving the removal of the moniker. Ironically, a group of Sioux is now threatening legal intervention to retain the name.
I’ve exchanged emails and had several conversations with Faison over the years. He retains his self-effacing qualities and sense of humor. When I asked what the biggest difference was between NMSU and UND, besides the weather, he mentioned student diversity.
He said, “When we talk about diversity here, it involves whether an individual is Swedish or Norwegian.” The Sven and Ole jokes are alive and well in North Dakota.
It’s a good question to all but NMSU followers, because when college AD’s make news in these parts, it’s usually Rudy Davalos at UNM or Bob Stull at UTEP.
The Rude One is known for brash outspokenness and fierce defense of anything Lobo. Though obviously not revered in Aggieland, he’s like Mother Teresa compared to Bob Stull. And I firmly believe, despite a huge ego and Texas mean streak, Davalos has been a highly effective AD for UNM – probably the best ever. Lobo facilities, budgets, and fund raising have improved remarkably. Football, long the doormat of the MWC, is on the road to being a stable, competitive program. As one who has watched Lobo football for more than 50 years, it’s a Minor Miracle. Doing the same for Aggie football, something Faison would like to do, would be a MAJOR MIRACLE.
Baron Bob at UTEP is renowned for his “business decisions” (like refusing to play NMSU in Las Cruces), madly shopping the Miners around to other conferences, obfuscation at press conferences, and for a hideous hiring and retainage record for coaches. But like Rudy, Stull has improved facilities and fund raising in El Paso, and that has kept him largely above reproach from alums. Many NMSU and UNM fans can only hope that there are enough positives to convince (or fool) the Huskies to hire Baron Bob away to soggy Seattle.
Far from the emotions (pro or con) evoked by Davalos and Stull, Brain Faison has operated in virtual obscurity in Las Cruces. Some would say this simply stems from being in sleepy Las Cruces (this is changing rapidly—growth is rampant). Like Davalos and Stull, controversy has dogged Faison. But unlike those two, the controversy has not been about his own behavior. Witness the Niki Lowery debacle involving the mutiny of the women’s basketball team, Tony Samuel’s punching out the video coordinator, and the Walter Taylor and Detrius Roberson assault incidents.
Then, of course, there was the inheritance of (and imposition of new) McCarthy NCAA basketball sanctions, and a $2 million deficit left by ‘Diamond Jim’ Paul in 1999. Most recently, Faison’s future Hall of Fame basketball coach was diagnosed with life-threatening cancer. An otherwise joyful invitation to join the WAC is now under a cloud because of C-USA expansion and Baron Bob’s prodding of Princess Di to have UTEP ‘run away’ yet again. Couple this with an annual athletic budget, which at about $9 million, is 60 percent of UNM’s and several million less than UTEP’s. NMSU’s budget ranks about 110 out of 117 D-1 football-playing universities.
It’s a tough job. To keep his program afloat, Faison has used more smoke and mirrors than Houdini. He’s been busier than Steve Garvey at a USC Divorcee’s Reunion.
On the bright side under Faison’s watch, lobbying in Santa Fe has been much better than in past decades. As a result of both State and new private monies, facilities have been greatly upgraded. New baseball and softball fields and the $6 million Fulton Center are in place. A $23 million upgrade to the Pan Am is in the works. Practice fields, Pan Am and AMS landscaping, parking lots, and other buildings have been spruced up. Faison is a neatnik.
Aggie athletic performance has been a mixed bag, though clearly better overall than a decade ago. Basketball has disappointed (with some valid reasons) and football continues to struggle. But baseball (a Faison passion) and spring sports have improved, and women’s basketball is back on track. Volleyball made the NCAA tournament for the first time ever. Fund raising, while not on par with UNM’s or UTEP’s, is gradually growing. Corporate donors in booming Las Cruces are finally stepping up.
Brian Faison was hired in March 1999 following Jim Paul’s announced excuse that he was resigning to personally lead the George Bush campaign for the Presidency in Texas. Somehow, it turned out that Dubyah didn’t need much ‘hep’ in Texas. ‘Diamond Jim’ was soon selling refrigerators and driving an ice hockey team into the ground in El Paso, and running race horses in Ruidoso. His $2 million deficit remained. He is not missed.
Faison, who played football at Missouri in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, had previously served as AD at Indiana State for seven years and as assistant AD at Illinois State and Louisville for a total of ten years. He also was Director of Development for the National Children’s Cancer Society in St. Louis for four years just before coming to NMSU.
Brian Faison is a forthcoming man who does not sugar coat the situation at NMSU. While he can be diplomatic and cautious with the media, when an alum or booster approaches him and asks a question, he answers directly and truthfully. You get a full explanation, both the bad and the good. Many friends think him too honest for his own good -- too self-effacing to the point of being cynical at times. I find it refreshing and very different. He will talk sports with anybody.
Faison has been criticized for being disorganized and unmindful of details. I have no doubt this is true at times. But given the threadbare, underpaid staff (and many students and interns) it’s little wonder that Aggie athletics doesn’t run with precision.
Probably the most striking things about Brian Faison’s personality are his competitiveness and passion for winning. He is renowned for ‘colorful’ language and animated sideline behavior at Aggie games – not always becoming for an AD. At a Sun Belt basketball tournament in New Orleans a few years ago, women’s AD Karen Fey clamped a Hulk Hogan bear hug on Faison to stop him from attacking an errant referee. No wonder Faison hired the statuesque 6’2” ex-Aggie volleyballer, Maria Roth, as Fey’s replacement. He’ll need her help to keep him in line.
The best part of Faison’s life away from NMSU is his family. Wife Donna is a warm, caring person and a great sports fan in her own right. She works (unpaid) at all Aggie games and social events. The Faison’s have three boys, all fine kids --Jonathan just out of college in Missouri, Matthew a student at NMSU, and Bradley at Las Cruces High.