Who’s Best Football Coach in NM History?

by Buster Mabrey, Executive Director of New Mexico High School Coaches Association.

[Thomas “Buster” Mabrey has been the Executive Director of NMHSCA since 2008.  He is a graduate of Hobbs High School, has served in the US Navy and is an alumnus of New Mexico State University.  He’s served as an official, a coach and an athletic director at the high school level and has been an administrator at NMAA before coming to NMHSCA.  We are delighted to be allowed to share his recent article on two of the greatest names in high school football in our state.]

For years, I have enjoyed waking up in the morning, getting my coffee, fetching my newspaper, and turning on my TV to watch the news. These days, I get my coffee, fetch my phone and turn on the TV, read the news, and of course read TWITTER & FACEBOOK. This morning as I scrolled through the tweets of the Top 25 football teams in New Mexico, the previous night’s scores across the state, sports commentary, political commentary, etc… I read a tweet by @IsaacAvilucea , who is a Staff Reporter for the Santa Fe New Mexican. It read, “Media Straw Poll: Better Coach: Roanhaus or Bradley? Tweet me your responses.”

Who is a better coach? Jim Bradley, the original architect of the Mayfield Dynasty both old and new, and he dominating Roswell football teams of the 80’s & early 90’s, or Eric Roanhaus, the all-time wins leader in New Mexico with 311 wins, 10 state championships and counting?

This tweet struck a chord with me. I have had the opportunity to be with and around each of these NMHSCA legendary coaches at one time or another for the past twenty-nine years. Each of these coaches are in the NMHSCA Hall of Honor, Past Presidents of the organization, & NHSACA Hall of Fame inductees, but most importantly, loyal members of the New Mexico High School Coaches Association and the game of football in our great state.

Who is the better coach? For me, this starts in 1981 at the state championship game in Hobbs between my alma mater, the Hobbs Eagles, and the Clovis Wildcats. This was a game in which the Eagles were going to win. They had Timmy Smith, Jeff Poukett, Manny Marquez, Ruben Berry, etc….., and of course Timmy Smith! It was shocking as I watched from the 9th grade section of the stadium as the Clovis Wildcats actually slowed/stopped Timmy Smith from winning the game like he had all year. In no time after that, I heard that the Clovis coaching staff figured out that if Timmy was looking down at his feet before a play, he was getting the ball. If Timmy Smith was looking straight ahead, he was not getting to the ball. The one thing I remember from that game as a 9th grader was that Clovis defensive players were- where Timmy Smith was. At that point, Eric Roanhaus was the young head coach of the Clovis Wildcats.

During my junior and senior years on the Hobbs football team, I can remember competing against both Coach Roanhaus and Coach Bradley. In 1983 at the Wool Bowl, my teammates and I were planning to re-enact a then current Miller Brand beer commercial in which a nuclear explosion went off and the beer company claimed it was “Miller Time.” I wrote the words “Miller Time” on the chalk board before walking out on the field. Jimmy Miller, the current head coach of the #1 ranked Las Cruces Bulldawgs, was the quarterback of the Roswell Coyotes. In the end, the Eagles missed a field goal to lose the game, and it had been “Miller Time”. Jimmy Miller ran up and down the field like so many of the Jim Bradley quarterbacks in the last fifty years. In 1984, my senior year, I remember each of the games against the Wildcats and the Coyotes coached by the legendary coaches. The first game was against Roswell. With the Eagles leading by three points and less than two minutes left in the game. Roswell was on offense and was driving the ball, and all of sudden, the Hobbs scoreboard quit working. The Roswell drive died on the eight yard line when the referee told everyone the time had ran out. Coach Bradley claimed years later it was a set-up and still will claim that so. Later that season with a district championship on the line, the Clovis Wildcats did what they have done to the Hobbs Eagles since, and that is “win” in convincing fashion. The star of that game was Darren Kelley, the current defensive coordinator and NMHSCA Board member. The one thing I remember about Coach Roanhaus at the time was that all of the booster club parents that year were making and selling buttons that read, “Roy Rogers never met Eric Roanhaus” I am not sure where and why that came about, but they sold a lot of buttons! Many years later, I told that story to coaches and officials in the Portales/Clovis area while presenting a football rules clinic for the NMAA. Coach Roanhaus’ reaction was to laugh. I am not sure how many people know, but Coach Roanhaus can be one of the funniest people. He has so many stories that just make a person laugh. He delivers the punch line like a champ.

In 1992, I had been hired by Michael Draper to be an assistant coach for the Mayfield Trojans. The scrimmage for the Trojans that year was against Roswell and Jim Bradley in Ruidoso. As we prepared to start, there were no officials. Coach Draper said it was Coach Bradley’s job to get the officials. Coach Bradley said it was Coach Draper’s job to get the officials. Thus being the new assistant coach, it became my job to be the official. We had to use yellow shimmy shirts for flags. It was scary being the official. It was the first time I felt Coach Bradley’s intensity and “that look.” I only threw one “yellow shimmy shirt” against Roswell that day. That one look was enough for me to keep my “yellow shimmy shirt” tucked into my shorts.

Two years later, Jim Bradley returned to Mayfield and resurrected the Mayfield Trojans and created that dynasty. I was lucky enough to be hired by him. The reason I say lucky because Coach Bradley, by hiring me and holding me accountable, created opportunities for me to learn how to be a coach, a man, a worker, a leader, and he taught me that that football does mirror life. The first day he spoke to the excited Mayfield Trojans in a science classroom on the 2nd floor at Mayfield High School, he said that he knew the recipe for success. He told the athletes that if that followed that recipe, they would be winners. In 1995, the Mayfield Trojans won the State Championship at Leon Williams Stadium. It was a great game that came down to the last minute. It still is one of the most memorable experiences I have had in education and sports. The Bradley recipe is followed until this day, and teams are winning football games from Dennison, TX to Farmington, NM.

Being a part of the Clovis Wildcat tradition has only been, for me, experienced from the outside in comparison with working with Jim Bradley and Trojans. My first experience feeling the tradition of the purple was in 1996 while refereeing an AAU Girls Basketball camp at Rock Staubaus gym. Because so many Clovis football coaches have been officials including Coach Roanhaus, the officiating dressing room was the football office. As I walked through the Clovis football locker room, I first saw the Wildcat in the middle of the floor. The Clovis tradition of not stepping on the Wildcat was taught to me quickly. To step on the Wildcat would have been disrespecting every Wildcat football player throughout history. It was and is a concrete example of the pride and tradition instilled by Coach Roanhaus. While in the football office, I noticed a roll of binders on a shelve that had titles like, Hobbs, Roswell, Goddard, and Artesia. Right in the middle, there was one titled, Bradley. I asked why it didn’t say Mayfield since I was an assistant coach there at the time. Coach Roanhaus said, “It’s not Mayfield we need to know about; it’s Bradley.”

Starting in 2001, I began watching New Mexico’s greatest coaches from afar. Each kept winning district championships and big playoff games. It wasn’t until I became the Executive Director of the Coaches Association that I was able to view them on another level. Both of these coaches attend the Coaches Association state clinic every single year. Each of these coaches ensures that their staffs came to the coaches’ clinic every single year. The beauty of this is that even though they were the most successful coaches in the history of football in New Mexico, each of them believed in professional development and getting better. During the clinic in Las Cruces in 2011, I walked into a session and observed Coach Roanhaus standing on top of his chair to get a better view of a clinician displaying an agility drill. Here was a coach that had won ten state championships and more than 300 football games endangering his wellbeing to learn something new. Coach Bradley attended every clinic every year even during the time he was the head coach at New Mexico State University. He was also a coach that was constantly giving his players and his assistant coaches’ articles and information to read.

The past couple of years, Coach Darren Kelley has been on the Board of Directors executive committee. During that time, I have learned so much more about Coach Roanhaus. He is a coach of simple consistency entwined in discipline. He knows the recipe for success, and he, too, follows that recipe. Learning and recognizing his commitment to loyalty, family, and to the Clovis Wildcats is what makes him great. He is also committed to preserving the memories and success of all New Mexico coaches.

The question was though, “Who is the better coach?” So, what is my answer? Well, I always say that a little Eagle Black and Gold will always run in my veins. I also say that a little Trojan Green and Gold will run through my veins. There are not too many Hobbs Eagles that can root for any Clovis Wildcat. There isn’t too many Trojans that could every say that Coach Roanhaus is better than Coach Bradley. Now, I do have a purple cap that has Wildcat Relays on it that was a gift from Coach Kelley. I have been wearing it with pride of late. Here is my answer. If I am standing east of the Pecos river, Eric Roanhaus is the best football coach ever in the state of New Mexico, and his recipe is still winning games. If I am standing on the west side of the Pecos river, Jim Bradley is best football coach ever in the state of New Mexico, and his recipe is still winning games. And of course, we really need to add Coach Gentry into the equation of this question. He, too, had the recipe to create greatness in his athletes.

Anyway a person looks at it; all three coaches are examples of why coaches are so important in our society. They teach and coach athletes to understand how to be winners in many aspects of their lives both on the football field and off. New Mexico is better off because of all three of these Hall of Fame coaches.


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