Neil McCarthy (basketball)

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Neil McCarthy (born May 18, 1940) is a retired college basketball coach. He was head coach of the Weber State Wildcats team from 1974 to 1985 and at the New Mexico State Aggies from 1985 to 1997.

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.[1] 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.

Academic scandals[edit]

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.[2]

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.[3]

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.[3][4]

Head coaching record[edit]

Season Team Overall Conference Standing Postseason
Weber State Wildcats (Big Sky) (1975–1985)
1974-1975 Weber St. 5-7* N/A N/A N/A
1975-1976 Weber St. 21-11 9-5 T-1st
1976-1977 Weber St. 20-8 11-3 2nd
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
1980-1981 Weber St. 8-19 5-9 T-5th
1981-1982 Weber St. 15-13 6-8 T-4th
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
1984-1985 Weber St. 20-9 9-5 3rd
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)
Total: 419-209 (.667)

      National champion         Postseason invitational champion  
      Conference regular season champion         Conference regular season and conference tournament champion
      Division regular season champion       Division regular season and conference tournament champion
      Conference tournament 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.


  1. ^ McCarthy out as coach; NMSU turns to Henson. Associated Press, 1997-10-17.
  2. ^ 1996 NCAA infraction report
  3. ^ a b Herrerra, Pete. NCAA places New Mexico St. on four years' probation. Associated Press via San Diego Union-Tribune, 2001-06-20.
  4. ^ 2001 NCAA infraction report