Norm Ellenberger, the former New Mexico coach who was convicted of fraud charges and lost his job in the Lobogate scandal, still believes he will be a full-time college basketball coach.
"Maybe after this year," he said.
For now, Ellenberger is happy to be serving his second season as a volunteer assistant coach at Texas El Paso. The position, which carries no salary, is his first in college coaching since he was fired at New Mexico early in the 1979-80 season in the wake of a criminal and National Collegiate Athletic Assn. investigation of the program.
"Everything has worked out very well for me at UTEP," Ellenberger said in a telephone interview this week. "I've been accepted here."
Ellenberger joined the UTEP staff at the urging of Coach Don Haskins, a longtime friend and former Western Athletic Conference rival.
"Don said before last season that he needed some help and to come on down," Ellenberger said. "I never expected to stay this long. It just grew into this."
Although this is Ellenberger's return to college basketball, it is not his first coaching work since he left the University of New Mexico after seven seasons as head coach. Ellenberger served as coach of the Albuquerque franchise in the short-lived Ladies Professional Basketball Assn. and as coach of the city's Continental Basketball Assn. franchise before it folded.
He said he still owns a home in Albuquerque and has sold his interest in a restaurant there. He declined to say how he was supporting himself while working as a non-salaried coach.
"All I ever wanted to do was coach," said Ellenberger, 52.
Ellenberger was convicted in 1981 on 21 state counts of fraud and filing false travel vouchers with the university. The maximum penalty was 35 years in prison and a $110,000 fine. But he received only a year of unsupervised probation.
District Judge Phillip Baiamonte said at the sentencing that Ellenberger was "basically doing what most everybody in this community wanted him to do. Namely, win basketball games at any cost."
Baiamonte also said of the case: "There wasn't much of a sentence because there wasn't much of a crime."
Says Ellenberger: "All of that was years ago. I've put that behind me."