LAS CRUCES, New Mexico -- Neil McCarthy, legendary Hall of Fame head basketball coach at New Mexico State from 1985 to 1997, died Sunday at the age of 81.
The university confirmed his death in an announcement on social media: "Sad news today with the passing of Neil McCarthy. We will miss and remember you coach."
During most of McCarthy's tenure at New Mexico State, the Aggies were the second-best team in what became the Big West Conference, behind UNLV. After UNLV hit the skids, McCarthy took advantage and led the Aggies to four straight Big West tournament titles and four straight NCAA Tournaments from 1990 to 1994. His best team was the 1991–92 unit, which advanced all the way to the Sweet 16 — which was the Aggies' deepest run in the tournament since its 1970 Final Four unit.
McCarthy was abruptly fired just weeks before the start of practice for the 1997–98 season. Athletic director Jim Paul cited a number of factors, principally the basketball team's poor performance in the classroom - which he said showed McCarthy emphasized winning over academics. McCarthy only graduated nine players in his 12 years at the school (an 11% graduation rate), including only one in his last four years.
He left New Mexico State as the school's winningest basketball coach, a mark that was later passed by Lou Henson.