LAS CRUCES, New Mexico (KTSM) – Former New Mexico State men’s basketball coach Neil McCarthy, who led the Aggies to the 1992 Sweet 16, died on Saturday, the university announced on Sunday. He was 81 years old
The head coach of the Aggies from 1985-1997, McCarthy took NMSU to the NCAA Tournament in five straight seasons from 1989-90 to 1993-94. His best team was the 1992 squad that went to the Sweet 16 as a 12-seed, upsetting DePaul in round one, then defeating Southwest Louisiana, before falling to 1-seed UCLA, 85-78 at The Pit in Albuquerque.
Current NMSU head coach Chris Jans took to Twitter on Sunday to mourn the loss of McCarthy, joining Aggie fans around the world.
“Sad news for Aggie fans today with the passing of HOF Coach Neil McCarthy,” Jans wrote. “Although I never met Coach McCarthy, I have enjoyed hearing the stories and especially people’s fondness of his tough teams. RIP Coach.”
Those NCAA Tournament wins and appearances were all later vacated due to NCAA violations during McCarthy’s tenure at NMSU.
McCarthy was selected to the NMSU Athletic Hall of Fame in March of 2021, shortly before his passing. In 23 seasons as a head coach at both NMSU and Weber State (1974-1985), McCarthy accumulated an overall record of 419-209, a .667 winning percentage.
A tough, hard-nosed coach, McCarthy instilled that same spirit in his teams, which included eventual NBA champion Randy Brown and current Las Cruces High School boys basketball coach William Benjamin.
“My whole college experience was everything I dreamed of and he took a chance on a hard-headed 17, 18-year-old kid,” said Benjamin. “We had a lot of run-ins just from me trying to mature and figure the whole thing out. One thing Neil was for me, he stayed down with me. He never gave up on me.”
A five-time coach of the year in the Big Sky and Big West Conferences, McCarthy’s teams at NMSU and Weber State won a total of seven regular season league titles and six conference tournament championships with McCarthy at the helm.
His time at NMSU was not without controversy. Academic scandals led to the aforementioned vacating of wins from the 1992, 1993 and 1994 seasons, in addition to a three-year NCAA probationary period. McCarthy was fired from NMSU just before the 1997-98 season due to the controversy.
His legacy as a winner lives on in the minds of Aggie fans, though, and his wins in the NCAA Tournament – vacated as they may be – stand now as the last time NMSU has won in the Big Dance.
“We still have to acknowledge that he gave people opportunities that they wouldn’t have gotten before,” said Benjamin. “If we’re talking New Mexico State basketball and winning, you have to bring up his name. Remember that, too, when all the (NCAA sanctions) come up.”