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Former Lobo men’s basketball coach Sweeney dies at 93

Bob Sweeney followed four trying years as University of New Mexico men’s basketball coach with a long and successful tenure as a coach and administrator in his native Santa Fe. He died Thursday at age 93. (Courtesy of the Sweeney family)

Bob Sweeney, a New Mexico athlete, coach, educator and administrator whose contributions spanned five decades, died Thursday morning. He was 93.

“Very, very good athlete,” his son, David Sweeney, said in a phone interview. “Very, very beautiful man.”

Sweeney, a Santa Fe native, was perhaps best known in Albuquerque for his four seasons as UNM’s men’s basketball coach (1958-62) that produced a record of 21-75. But up north, he fashioned a legacy of success, serving for almost 40 years at the College of Santa Fe as a coach and athletic director.

At Santa Fe High School in the 1940s, Sweeney was a four-sport star for the Demons — good enough to be recruited to Notre Dame as a football quarterback. After suffering an injury as a freshman, he transferred to Colorado, where he played basketball.

Returning to Santa Fe, he took the basketball head coaching job at St. Michael’s College, at age 22, in 1949.

His coaching career was interrupted by military service during the Korean War, but he then returned to St. Michael’s and coached the Knights to a 19-9 record in 1955-56 before being hired as freshman coach at UNM.

In 1957, his Lobo freshman team beat coach Bill Stockton’s varsity in a preseason game. Stockton stepped down at the end of the 1957-58 season, and Sweeney got the job.

The 1959-60 UNM men’s basketball team, with coach Bob Sweeney in the top row, far right, is shown. (UNM photo)

Unable to recruit and keep a top-flight big man — one such player “flipped” for Seattle University, another flunked out — Sweeney resigned after the 1961-62 season. But three of his UNM players, Joe McKay, Skip Kruzich and Santa Fean Mike Lucero, started for coach Bob King’s first Lobo team and helped lay the groundwork for King’s success.

Sweeney immediately was re-hired at St. Michael’s, which later would become College of Santa Fe. His two stints as St. Michael’s-CSF coach spanned 20 years and produced a record of 291-204.

During Sweeney’s tenure, CSF became something of a coach’s cradle — producing New Mexico high school coaches like Lenny Roybal, Bobby Rodriguez, Eloy Brazil, Bobby Ortiz and Ray Martinez.

Education, David Sweeney said, always meant more to his family than athletics. “Probably 95 percent of my dad’s players graduated,” he said. “That was very important to him.”

On one night in 1964, David Sweeney recalled, his father coached the Knights to a one-point victory over College of St. Joseph (later the University of Albuquerque). That same evening, the elder Sweeney learned he’d been elected to the Santa Fe school board.

“That was one of his proudest nights,” David Sweeney said.

On the court, Bob Sweeney’s proudest accomplishment was perhaps CSF’s trip to the NAIA quarterfinals in 1983 — though he then was the athletic director and not the coach. The Knights, with Roybal as head coach, went 25-9 that season.

“That was a big, big highlight,” said David Sweeney, who was a CSF assistant coach at the time. “Not only for the coaching staff and the players, but for my dad as athletic director.”

In 1986, College of Santa Fe dropped intercollegiate sports. Sweeney remained at the school as a teacher and administrator.

The Sweeney name continues to echo in Santa Fe: CSF’s Sweeney Gym, named after Sweeney’s father, Patrick; the Sweeney Convention Center and Sweeney Elementary School, named after him.

Sweeney was the father of four children, two boys and two girls.

“Good husband, good father, good grandfather,” said his nephew, Vince Martinez. “The most important things in life, he was good at.

“His only flaw,” Martinez said playfully, “was he was a Dallas Cowboys fan.”

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