One of Steve Alford's first tasks after accepting the Nevada basketball head job in April was getting his long-time friend and assistant coach Craig Neal to join his staff.
"A huge step was trying to put the band back together," Alford said.
Alford accomplished that in record-breaking fashion as Neal, who holds the title of associate head coach, has become the highest-paid assistant coach in Nevada athletics history.
Neal will make $270,000 in his first season at Nevada, according to the school's public records office, which released the annual salaries of the Wolf Pack's assistant coaches to Nevada Sports Net. Comparatively, Nevada's top assistant coach last season, Gus Argenal, made about $130,000. Along with Neal, the team's two other full-time assistant coaches, Bil Duany and Kory Barnett, will make $118,450 this season.
After a standout college career at Georgia Tech and a nearly decade-long pro career, Neal's coaching tenure started as an assistant coach with the NBA's Toronto Raptors' from 2000-03. He joined Alford's staff at Iowa from 2004-07 before moving with Alford to New Mexico from 2007-13. After Alford accepted the UCLA job in 2013, Neal replaced him as the Lobos' head coach, posting a 76-52 overall record and 42-30 league mark before being fired after four seasons.
"I got an opportunity at UCLA and he got an opportunity to be at New Mexico," Alford said of their 2013 split. "New Mexico was a special place for us. We loved it. We loved everything about Albuquerque, about the university, about what we had built there. In my opinion, we did change a culture there academically. We had a very good six-year run there together. The fan base is incredible. It was an awesome place to coach and live. To have an opportunity to get back together at a place like Nevada and get back in the Mountain West, a place we have a lot of knowledge of, a lot of experience in but also a lot of appreciation for, we love this league."
Neal had not coached in the college game since parting with New Mexico in 2017. Before joining Nevada, Neal spent the previous 10 months working in Monaco as the country's director of sport where he oversaw 23 youth teams for the ASM Basketball Association that is comprised of players from ages 9 to 21. Alford said he was thrilled the two, who grew up in Indiana playing youth basketball against each other, were able to reunite.
In nine seasons together, Alford and Neal went 218-87 with seven conference championships, five NCAA Tournament berths and five seasons being ranked in the AP Top 25.
"To get back together, that doesn’t always happen," Alford said. "Usually when you break off, your careers go different ways. We’ve known each other since third grade. We’re coaches kids. He played for his dad in high school. I played for my dad. Both Indiana coaches. He went and play for Coach (Bobby) Cremins (at Georgia Tech). I went and played for Coach (Bobby) Knight (at Indiana). We’ve been long-time friends, so we can play that Batman and Robin pretty well. To get him back was a huge key for us and then just solidifying the staff. For whatever reason, it has a very big Indiana flavor, which has been fun. But it’s a staff that I’m very happy about.”
The salaries of Nevada's head coach and three assistants this season will come in at $1,006,900, a nice discount thanks to Alford's salary being only $500,000 in each of his first two years at Nevada. The Wolf Pack's head coach and three assistants last year cost around $1,313,000, with Eric Musselman making $1 million of that.
Prior to Neal's contract, the highest-paid Nevada assistant coach in any sport was football defensive coordinator, Jeff Casteel, who made $238,703 last season.