"Publicly, I would have never admitted it. I was taught well," he says. "You've got to give yourself a five-year window, just in case. But in my mind, I felt I could turn this around pretty quick."
That he has.
A season and a half after taking over a team that finished 6-24 in 2005, the school's worst record in 39 years, the former NBA star has the Aggies on a sizzling midseason streak. They've won 15 of their past 16 games entering Saturday's contest at San Jose State.
And while they are not in the Top 25, they are turning heads.
New Mexico State (16-4, 6-1 Western Athletic Conference ) this month shared the nation's longest winning streak - 13 in a row - with Wisconsin. It ended with an overtime loss at Louisiana Tech, but the Aggies bounced back to beat then-No. 15 Nevada 80-75 in Las Cruces.
It was New Mexico State's first win in eight years over a Top 25 team and put the Aggies in position to end the Wolf Pack's three-year run of WAC titles.
Theus' old boss isn't surprised one bit. Theus spent two seasons as Rick Pitino's assistant at Louisville
"Reggie has all the assets to be a great head coach at the collegiate or pro level," Pitino said. "He's willing to pay the price for what it takes to be a good coach."
Expectations have been soaring since Theus was hired. The Aggies haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 1999, but their fans are convinced this is the year. Attendance at home games has doubled since the 2004-05 season to the current average of nearly 9,600, and there's been a serious spike in the sale of "Reggie Nation" T-shirts.
"Reggie is our man and everybody wants him," said Hilda Ortega, a buyer of clothing at the campus bookstore.
Theus didn't start from the ground up in rebuilding the Aggies. He quickly tapped into a pool of players ready to move on from their initial major college choices, especially big men, to build a dominating front line.
"The best part of our team is that we haven't played our best basketball yet," Theus said. "You can see it coming and you just hope it gets here at the right time."