Janice Ruggiero has devoted virtually her entire professional life, and the majority of her adult life, to the athletics department at the University of New Mexico.
On Friday, the woman who has long been hailed as a champion and mentor for UNM student-athletes said the time was right for her to try something different.
Ruggiero’s retirement from UNM athletics was announced Friday, although his affiliation with his alma mater continues.
Next month, she will join the UNM Foundation to help with fundraising efforts.
“I think once you’ve been doing a job for so long, it gets repetitive,” Ruggiero said in a Friday afternoon phone interview.
“Once you get to that point, someone new has to come in with fresh eyes.”
A former Lobo basketball player herself (1984-87) fresh out of Eldorado where she played for Don Flanagan, Ruggiero, 55, was the longest-serving member of the school’s athletic department. She was AD Assistant to Internal Operations, a position she had held since December 2015.
“A pillar and a leader at UNM,” athletic director Eddie Nuñez said in a press release issued by the athletic department. “From her time as a student-athlete to her time in administration, Janice’s love for her home has always shown in her passion for everything she has done. In his 30+ years at UNM Athletics, one thing has remained as his common thread, and that is his dedication (and) genuine commitment to student-athletes.
Ruggiero became an employee of UNM in the early 1990s. It was not immediately clear how the department would handle the position she is leaving. A message for Nuñez was not immediately returned on Friday.
“You know what? I hadn’t thought about (retirement), but I was talking with a friend of mine at the Foundation, and it came to mind,” Ruggiero said. She will be director of development from the Anderson School of Management, of which she is an alumnus.
“It will be a very good thing for me.”
Under his former job description, Ruggiero was responsible for overseeing sports performance areas, the training facility, academic services and compliance. She also served as UNM’s Mountain West Conference liaison and oversaw the sport of women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, track and field, and women’s golf.
She served as the department’s AD assistant for 15 years — the title she held prior to her most previous position — and UNM’s senior administrator since 2000.
She was even acting AD for a few months in 2017, after Paul Krebs retired and before Nuñez was hired. Among a handful of national assignments, Ruggiero served as a member of the Division I women’s basketball committee from 2002-2004.
Ruggiero first entered campus as a basketball rookie, then named Janice Branch, who was recruited by then-head coach Doug Hoselton. She then served as an assistant coach for the Lobos before serving in various administrative roles over the past 30 years.
“It’s so funny — you hear a lot of people say it’s their dream job, but for me it was,” Ruggiero said. “I grew up watching Michael Cooper play in the Pit, and I always wanted to be able to play in the Pit one day, to be able to play in front of my parents.”
Ruggiero and UNM
1984: Joined Lobo women’s basketball team, disbanded 1987: Moved to Hawaii for senior season.
1989: Graduated from UNM with a degree in Marketing and General Management.
1991: Returned to the basketball program reinstated as an assistant coach.
1997: Obtains a master’s degree in sports administration.
2000: Becomes associate sports director.
2015: Promoted to AD Assistant for Internal Operations; named one of the “Top 10 Senior Administrators” by AD College.
2017: AD interim from June to September after the departure of Paul Krebs and until the hiring of Eddie Nuñez.
Next Generation: Sons Leonard Jordan (LJ) and Alex both graduated from UNM and went on to graduate school in college.