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Manzano’s Adcox, La Cueva’s Back climb the ladder of success

Chad Adcox, a former triple-option quarterback, was living in northern Utah, trying to map a path that would bring him some peace of mind.

He had wanted to escape a partying lifestyle that was wearing him out, and even detoured briefly as a mortgage loan officer in his early 20s.

“The day was boring,” Adcox said. “Not a whole lot going on. I wanted to go back to school and work with kids.”

He had tried college, but left. But he badly wanted to coach, which necessitated his return to school. He struck a bargain with his grandfather, who lived in a desert city in New Mexico: if the grandson moved to Albuquerque and attended college, he could live rent free at his house.

Brandon Back, a local, graduated from Del Norte High School with an itch to become a firefighter.

That was the plan. But when he wrecked his knee, that forced him to pivot his life in another direction.

“I was looking for something else to do,” he said. So he joined the military. By 1998, after his service, he joined his alma mater, where he earned his first coaching job.

La Cueva coach Brandon Back. Greg Sorber/Journal

These circular paths have led both men to the most important day of their coaching careers on Saturday.

Adcox’s No. 1 Manzano Monarchs (12-0) and Back’s second-seeded La Cueva Bears (11-1) will meet at 1 p.m. at Wilson Stadium for the Class 6A state championship.

Adcox, 43, became Manzano’s head coach in 2012. Back, 40, took over at La Cueva the following year.

Both were longtime assistants at their schools before they were promoted from within. Of the two, Back is the only one with a championship ring, which he earned as a La Cueva assistant in the school’s 2009 championship season. He joined La Cueva’s staff in 2005 when the Bears were coming off consecutive state titles, and served under both Fred Romero and Ed Lucero before La Cueva upped his pay grade.

“It’s a very demanding place to be at, if you’re not ready,” said Back, who is a former varsity boys track coach with the Bears. “It’s just a different bird here.”

As he interviewed, and with one foot inside the proverbial door already, there was a tacit understanding between him and the committee that Back was acutely aware and fully acquainted with the lofty ideals to which this football program aspires.

Although, this job has proven more taxing than he could have imagined when he was hired 4½ years ago.

“You think you know,” said Back, a former defensive back. “But the input requirement is higher than what I thought.”

Adcox, meanwhile, joined the Manzano staff in 2003. UNM had assigned him there to student teach, and it was there that he met then-Monarchs head coach Aaron Ocampo. Adcox’s father was a YAFL director in Ogden, and he was coaching the Mighty Mites even as he was still in high school himself.

Adcox had interviewed twice before to become a head coach, once at Atrisco Heritage and once at Los Lunas. Those two failed attempts, he said, served him well as he pursued the Manzano opening when Ocampo left for Centennial.

He considers himself an Ocampo disciple to various degrees — even if their personalities differ, with Adcox certainly the more laid back of the two — and Manzano’s offensive schemes and philosophies are very similar to the prosperous Ocampo years. But Adcox also knows he’s been able to put his own fingerprint on this program.

“I learned a lot from him,” Adcox said. “I think a lot … comes from the mentors that we all had, who taught us how to do things the right way. Aaron taught me a lot of things I didn’t know.”

By the time Ocampo resigned, Manzano was a vibrant program, with semifinal appearances in 2009 and 2011 and a state final loss to Mayfield in 2010. Adcox, like Back, was already entrenched.

“A lot of it is about relationships,” Adcox said. “And out of all the candidates coming through that door, I was the only one who had a relationship with those kids.”

Back had always wanted to coach; he helped his father, as Adcox did with his, at the YAFL level when he was rehabbing from his knee injury.

He coached with Romero for six years at La Cueva and Lucero for one. He actually was out of football the year before La Cueva hired him. He, like Adcox, had put in to be a head coach before — at La Cueva, before Lucero was selected.

“I knew the community and the expectations here, and I wanted to be a head coach,” Back said. “I never thought there would be an opportunity, and then it just presented itself. This was the place I wanted to be.”

Back earlier this year retired from the New Mexico Air National Guard in April, after 19 years of service.

He and Adcox also share something else in common. Before Adcox joined Manzano, he and Back coached together on Del Norte’s staff for one year — in 2002 — when gravelly-voiced John Chambers was the Knights’ head coach. Back was a varsity assistant, Adcox a freshman assistant.

On Saturday, far removed from those days as co-workers, Adcox and Back will pursue a career pinnacle.

Chad Adcox

School: Manzano

Age: 43

Record: 44-25 since he became the Monarchs coach in 2012

Background: Attended high school in Ogden, Utah, finished college at the University of New Mexico

Brandon Back

School: La Cueva

Age: 40

Record: 31-23 since he became the Bears coach in 2013

Background: Attended Del Norte HS and Wayland Baptist University


Class 6A Final

No. 1 Manzano vs. No. 2 La Cueva

1 p.m., Wilson Stadium


Adults: $8.00

Students/Seniors/Military: $5.00

Note: Tickets can ONLY be purchased at the venue prior to the game, or online at Capacity at Wilson Stadium is 5,800, but standing-room tickets may be made available if needed.


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