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‘Legend in the North Valley’ Coleman goes out on top as coach, AD

Valley’s head coach Joe Coleman has a few words for the referee during a game in February, 2014. The exiting coach led the Vikings to three state championships. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal File)

Joe Coleman will always be recognized as one of Valley High School’s greatest and most accomplished athletes. One of the Vikings’ all-time winningest and successful coaches, too.

But it is the end of an era.

Coleman’s fantastic run as Valley’s popular boys basketball coach – which included three state championships, including the last two seasons – is over. The Journal learned on Thursday afternoon that Coleman, 54, a beloved coach in the tight-knit North Valley community, has stepped aside as coach and athletic director.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Coleman said Thursday. “All summer long, I’ve been thinking about it. I didn’t know if it was right or wrong. Do I do this? Am I ready? Am I not? There’s so many things that were playing into it.”

Coleman said his departure was effective at the start of September.

“Coach Coleman is a legend in the North Valley,” said Coleman’s assistant coach of the last 17 years, EZ Panas. “He’s not only a great basketball coach, he’s a great man. I’m gonna miss him.”

Coleman is the second metro-area boys basketball coach with multiple state basketball championships to step away during this offseason. La Cueva Hall of Famer Frank Castillo retired earlier this year.

Coleman, a 1984 Valley graduate, took over as coach before the 1997-98 season. The Vikings reached four state championship games and won three blue trophies in his 23 seasons.

He coached his son Bo to the Class 5A title in 2014, and Valley also won the last two Class 4A state tournaments after dropping into the state’s second-largest classification a couple of seasons ago.

“It’s just gonna be weird without him coaching, without him being on the sideline,” said Volcano Vista coach Greg Brown, who once played for Coleman when Coleman was an assistant varsity coach at Albuquerque Academy. “Joe Coleman is one of the most unique coaches you’ll ever see. Nobody is more competitive. And he knew how to win.”

Coleman’s valedictory at Valley was an overtime win at an empty Dreamstyle Arena last March over Highland in the Class 4A final.

Bo Coleman tweeted three goat – as in Greatest of All Time – emojis on Thursday in tribute to his father’s coaching career.

“I loved the competition, and the excitement of walking into the Valley High School gymnasium, with a packed crowd,” Coleman said. “Every single day, I said, ‘Wow, I’m the head coach here.’ I’m gonna miss it.”

Asked if this was a retirement or a resignation, Coleman said, “That’s a good question. The coaching part is done. I’m not gonna come back to be a head boys basketball coach. I think I’m done with that.”

Valley also made it to the state final in 2000, losing to Hobbs.

“He had a great run there,” said friend Roy Sanchez, the longtime head coach at Eldorado. “He grew up there, and that job was tailor-made for him. … This is a nice way for him to go out.”

Coleman’s trademark intensity was reflected in his teams, said Cibola coach Ray Rodriguez.

“They always played hard, they were always physical and they were always tough,” Rodriguez said.

The news of Coleman’s retirement also brought out tributes from former and current players.

“The greatest coach I have ever played for,” current University of New Mexico football player Teton Saltes said on Twitter.

“What a blessing it has been to play for coach Coleman,” said Valley’s outstanding guard, Derick Chavez, in a tweet.

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