Neil McCarthy (basketball)
At Weber State, McCarthy led the Wildcats to four NCAA Tournaments, including the school's first NCAA Tournament win since reaching the Sweet 16 in 1972. He remained Weber State's winningest coach until Randy Rahe broke his wins record in 2016.
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 1991-1992 unit, which advanced all the way to the Sweet 16—the Aggies' deepest run in the tournament since the 1970 Final Four unit.
McCarthy was abruptly fired just weeks before the start of practice for the 1997-1998 season. Athletic director Jim Paul cited a number of factors, principally the basketball team's poor performance in the classroom. McCarthy only graduated nine players in his 12 years at the school (an 11 percent graduation rate), including only one in his last four years. In Paul's view, this meant that McCarthy emphasized winning over academics. He left New Mexico State as the school's winningest coach, but has since been passed by Lou Henson.
Officially, McCarthy was reassigned as an assistant athletic director for the balance of his contract. However, he resigned rather than assume that post.
Despite McCarthy's success in building two regional powers, two major academic scandals forced his departure from the coaching profession.
In early 1995, it emerged that six players had received help from one of McCarthy's assistants on their work at correspondence courses, including answers on their exams. After this came to light, New Mexico State withdrew from postseason consideration for the 1995-96 season. In July 1996, the NCAA placed New Mexico State on three years' probation and stripped the Aggies of their NCAA tournament appearances in 1992, 1993 and 1994. Although McCarthy was not involved in the violations, the NCAA severely criticized him for not properly controlling the program. It slapped him with a two-year "show-cause" order, meaning that if he ever left New Mexico State, any penalties imposed on him would have followed him to his new employer unless that school demonstrated that he had served his punishment.
After his ouster, McCarthy sued New Mexico State for wrongful termination. During a deposition related to that suit, McCarthy admitted under oath that he'd entered into a verbal agreement to hire Fletcher Cockrell, then the head coach at Jones County Community College in Mississippi, as an assistant coach if two of his star players signed with New Mexico State. Cockrell helped the players with their coursework and exams.
After the violations came to light, New Mexico State withdrew from postseason consideration for the 2000-2001 season, and placed the basketball team on two years' probation. The NCAA accepted New Mexico State's penalties, but imposed an additional four years' probation and forced the Aggies to vacate every game they played in 1996-1997 and 1997-1998. It also slapped McCarthy with a five-year show-cause order. Cockrell, who had been involved in violations at another school, received a 10-year show-cause order. The final report noted the similarities with the 1996 case. It also strongly hinted that had the Aggies not taken swift corrective action, the penalties might have been even harsher, and possibly included the "death penalty". However, it praised New Mexico State for forcing out McCarthy, the school president and Paul's predecessor as athletic director.
Head coaching record
|Weber State Wildcats (Big Sky) (1975–1985)|
|1977-1978||Weber St.||19-10||9-5||3rd||NCAA 1st Round|
|1978-1979||Weber St.||25-9||10-4||1st||NCAA 2nd Round|
|1979-1980||Weber St.||26-3||13-1||1st||NCAA 1st Round|
|1982-1983||Weber St.||23-8||10-4||T-1st||NCAA 1st Round|
|1983-1984||Weber St.||23-8||12-2||1st||NIT 2nd Round|
|Weber St.:||205-98 (.677)||94-46 (.671)|
|New Mexico State Aggies (PCAA/Big West) (1985–1997)|
|1985-1986||New Mexico St.||18-12||10-8||3rd|
|1986-1987||New Mexico St.||15-15||9-9||T-4th|
|1987-1988||New Mexico St.||16-16||8-10||T-6th|
|1988-1989||New Mexico St.||21-11||12-6||2nd||NIT 1st Round|
|1989-1990||New Mexico St.||26-5||16-2||T-1st||NCAA 1st Round|
|1990-1991||New Mexico St.||23-6||15-3||2nd||NCAA 1st Round|
|1991-1992||New Mexico St.||25-8*||12-6||3rd||NCAA Sweet 16*|
|1992-1993||New Mexico St.||26-8*||15-3||1st||NCAA 2nd Round*|
|1993-1994||New Mexico St.||23-8*||12-6||1st||NCAA 1st Round*|
|1994-1995||New Mexico St.||25-10||13-5||2nd||NIT 2nd Round|
|1995-1996||New Mexico St.||11-15||8-10||T-7th|
|1996-1997||New Mexico St.||19-9&||12-4&||T-1st&|
|New Mexico St.:||248-123 (.668)||142-72 (.664)|
National champion Postseason invitational champion
* New Mexico State was forced to vacate its 1992, 1993 and 1994 NCAA appearances due to academic fraud. Official records for those seasons are 23-7, 25-7 and 23-7, respectively.
& Entire 1996-97 season, as well as share of Big West title, vacated due to academic fraud.
% Official record at New Mexico State is 226-111 (130-68 Big West) without vacated games.
- McCarthy out as coach; NMSU turns to Henson. Associated Press, 1997-10-17.
- 1996 NCAA infraction report
- Herrerra, Pete. NCAA places New Mexico St. on four years' probation. Associated Press via San Diego Union-Tribune, 2001-06-20.
- 2001 NCAA infraction report