I met with head coach Jeremy Fishbein on a day after the University of New Mexico Board of Regents voted to discontinue the men’s soccer team. I’ve written a few traditional articles throughout this whole situation, but I thought the best way to tell this part of the story is to write it as I experienced it.
The Fishbein I talked to was quite different from the Fishbein that has been on Twitter and the media. Our background explains why this was probably the case.
Background: I’m a beat reporter, basketball and soccer are what I know the most. I began working around the UNM men’s soccer team in 2014 and have gone to almost every game since then. So yes, I’ve gotten to know Fishbein quite well. Last year he even offered me to produce and host Fish off the Pitch, a show he has with LoboTV/the UNM athletic department. During the season, I talk to him a couple of times a week either in person or through the phone. He got so used to me being around that he has relaxed to the point where we’ve done official interviews after practice where he is literally just sitting on the grass, or where I follow him with my microphone as he walks around picking up cones.
Friday (July 20, a day after Regents’ vote) morning. Fishbein sent an email to the media expressing his concern that other schools would begin taking the program’s top talent soon. UNM men’s soccer players have been released and are free to transfer at any time. The coach said he would make himself available during the weekend, so I texted him and scheduled a meeting.
Friday 3:30pm. As I was about to knock on his door, I heard him talking. I didn’t want to interrupt if he was on the phone so I waited outside. Two soccer players were waiting in the room next to his office.
“You’ll be here for a while,” one of them said. I didn’t ask him how long he had been waiting but at some point he joked(?) that he wouldn’t be shocked if I had to wait for an hour.
When I couldn’t hear Fishbein talking anymore I opened the door to his office. There was another player sitting there. I told Fishbein I could keep waiting outside. He said no, just take a seat. The coach showed the player something on his computer as they talked. I wasn’t aware of what they were discussing, but all of a sudden it became clear.
“I just wanted to let you know that if I get an opportunity for the fall, I’ll have to take it and leave,” the player said.
Silence. Fishbein looked at me and then quickly toward the door, my cue to leave.
He eventually finished talking with that player and told the two others that they would be waiting a little bit longer since he needed to talk to me first. He told me to wait in his office as he ran out for a little bit.
I was in the office setting up a tripod when he came in. There was a feeling of exhaustion that was quite obvious. Almost hopelessness, which is not something I’ve really seen from Fishbein before.
“I only have a couple minutes,” he said, and repeated it a couple of times before we started.
I handed him the lavalier microphone and clicked record, but he had a couple messages he needed to look at on his phone first. After a minute of silence, we finally began.
The actual interview only lasted about three and a half minutes. He said his main focus was to find out if the decision the Regents had made the day before was final, or if something else could be done. He was rushing to get his players some answers and was scheduling meetings with everyone in the roster to find out what they were thinking.
“Gradually trying to do a lot of things, it’s stressful,” he said.
I pointed out the groups and media across the nation talking about the situation and asked him if he thought more people speaking out would make a difference.
“No,” he said. “There is a right and there is a wrong. How many people do you need to tell you? It’s pretty evident.”
This was a big deal. How tired (mentally and physically) do you have to be to give that kind of answer? Fishbein would’ve normally said “yes.” He would’ve said people need to keep showing the administration how much the program means to them. But instead, he was honest and told me he felt it probably wouldn’t make a difference.
Here is more background: Fishbein is a master of “the coach answer.” Even when I know he is upset, he always gives positive answers when talking during a formal interview. To get a “more real” answer from him, I’ve learned that I have to ask the same question a couple of times. The answer he gave on Friday was almost too real.
When we first found out about the soccer team being in danger a couple months back, it was because Fishbein sent out an email to the media. He organized former players and community leaders. He gave the media notes on the program, sent us copies of letters from supporters, and provided contact information from people we might want to interview.
It definitely got people’s attention, but did it actually make a difference in Eddie Nuñez and Garnett Stokes recommendation? No. Did it make a difference in the Regents vote? No.
“Right now my head is throbbing, I’m exhausted,” Fishbein said. “You gotta do what’s right. It’s a public institution, let’s serve our public. It’s pretty clear that the public wants there to be a soccer team. I’m still in somewhat of a state of shock.”
After three and a half minutes Fishbein began to mess with the microphone… a not so subtle hint that this interview had to end. He apologized for making it so short, saying he didn’t want to come off as rude. He just had too much on his plate. As soon as I left, another player walked into his office.
LOBO SOCCER AIN'T GOING ANYWHERE AMIGOS!
— Jeremy Fishbein (@CoachFishNM) July 21, 2018
Fishbein doesn’t like nor excels at using social media. However, Friday night he went on Twitter and sent out six tweets. The most important one perhaps: “LOBO SOCCER AIN’T GOING ANYWHERE AMIGOS!”
I texted the soccer communications person to see if something had happened or if Fishbein was just trying to be optimistic. She said she had no idea.
Yea its really me. Wired after one of the most intense days of my life! I hit the wall for a little bit….ready to ROLL NOW! Need to support the past, present and future! GO LOBOS! Hitting the hay. Camp in the morning!
— Jeremy Fishbein (@CoachFishNM) July 21, 2018
Saturday morning. I was talking to someone who had seen one of the Regents on Thursday morning before the vote. She said he had his papers with him and she made a comment about his job. He began talking to her about it and told her what was happening that day. The Regent said soccer was definitely getting cut.
“He said, ‘It should’ve been football, but it’s going to be soccer,’ so he already knew,” the woman said. “I think they just wanted to make people feel like they had a chance to be heard.”
All I could think about as she told me this is that deep down Fishbein already knew this.
Later on Saturday. The coach returned to Twitter and said he was humbled by the support he was seeing from the community. His tone was a lot more positive than the one he had during our meeting. I didn’t know what to make of this, except that no matter how exhausted, he obviously wasn’t ready to give up 100 percent.