Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
New Mexico on Wednesday mourned the loss of a coaching icon.
Mike Brown, the Hall of Fame boys basketball coach who was the architect of one of the state’s great dynasties at Albuquerque Academy, died early Wednesday morning.
Brown passed at about 3 a.m. Wednesday at the home of his daughter Shawn. He was 75.
His wife of 52 years, Carol, his high school sweetheart, was at his side.
“My mom was holding his hand. It was awesome,” said Danny Brown, Mike’s youngest son. “Just the way he’d want to go. Nice and peaceful.”
Brown had been in declining health for many months. He was shifted to home hospice care over the weekend after being hospitalized since last November. Many friends, coaches and former players were afforded the chance to say their good-byes to Brown in person during the last couple of days.
“He’s a legend in New Mexico basketball history,” said James Borrego, the head coach of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and a player for Brown at Academy. “He belongs as an all-time great in our state.”
Notah Begay III, another of Brown’s former players and currently an analyst for Golf Channel, spoke reverently Wednesday about Brown, saying his high school basketball coach had a “monumental” impact on his life.
“He was a figure in sports that transcended basketball,” Begay said. “We truly lost a pillar of our community. Now our job is to move forward and to perpetuate what he stood for.”
Tributes poured in on social media after the news of Brown’s death became known.
He orchestrated one of the most sustained runs of brilliance in New Mexico prep basketball history, as the Chargers won six consecutive boys state titles from 1989-94. No boys program has ever surpassed that memorable run of six in a row. Frequently in those years, Academy was in the discussion for the best overall team regardless of classification.
Academy reached nine consecutive state finals from 1989-97, and the Chargers were also state runners-up under Brown in 2001 and 2008.
“What stands out to me about coach Brown is he built a culture of caring. He showed me what sustainable success was about, something I’m trying to build here in Charlotte,” Borrego said.
Brown in 2001 turned over head coaching duties in the state final to his longtime assistant, Roy Morgan, whose father Virgil had undergone cancer surgery just a couple of days prior and died that year.
“Outside of my own dad, nobody had a greater influence on me than coach Brown,” said an emotional Morgan, who succeeded Brown as Academy’s head coach in 2010. “He helped shape me professionally, personally, and his influence on me was enormous. He was there for all my seminal moments.”
Brown was a father figure to Morgan, who spent 23 seasons as Brown’s right-hand man with the Chargers.
“He fostered an ability to connect with his kids, with his staff,” Morgan said. “He said this a million times: ‘Be together.’ It was not about winning.”
Both of Brown’s sons, Greg and Danny, played for their dad, won multiple state titles as players at the Academy and later became head coaches in Albuquerque themselves. Greg currently is the boys coach at Volcano Vista, Danny is the boys coach at Sandia. Mike Brown for a handful of seasons served as an assistant coach to Danny when his son was coaching at Highland.
“Look at the occupation I chose and my brother chose. That should say enough,” Greg Brown said in a February 2011 Journal story that profiled men who had served as Mike Brown assistants before becoming head coaches. “We grew up wanting to be like our dad, and we still do, to this day. He impacted many lives. And that’s what my brother and I aspire to.”
Brown’s legacy endures; many of his assistant coaches at the Academy later became head coaches in the metro area. A couple still are, including Los Lunas’ Travis Julian.
“He was tough on his players, but at the end of the day, he cared about them. I tucked that away, and tried to hold onto it as a lesson,” Julian said in that 2011 story.
Earlier this year, Mike Brown was announced as part of the inaugural Hall of Fame athletics class at Academy. In 2018, he was announced as an inductee into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame.
Two years ago, he was diagnosed with a rare kind of Parkinson’s called MSA (Multiple System Atrophy). He’d been in the hospital since early November after suffering a spinal stroke.
Brown’s studious and well-dressed appearance on the bench, along with his measured coaching approach, belied an extremely competitive nature. He coached the Chargers for 26 years (1984-2010), winning 432 games, and was also a longtime English teacher at Academy.
Academy won 14 district championships during his tenure. He was promoted from assistant coach in 1984 following a title won by head coach Vince Cordova earlier that year.
Former Valley coach Joe Coleman spent eight seasons as an Academy assistant under Brown.
“My biggest memory was sitting there trying to ask him stuff, and he would never answer. He was trying to get you to find the answer within yourself,” Coleman said in that same 2011 story. “He would ask you a question back, and you would end up doing all the talking. I had never been around someone like that. I sat there for eight years, going, ‘Wow, this is something special.’ When I left after eight years, I knew I was fortunate to be part of what he had done.”
Brown’s familial approach to Academy’s program and his genteel nature away from the sport endeared him to many.
“He was a father figure to me,” Borrego said. “He took me in at a very young age, treated me as one of his own and he really cared for me. He taught me how to be a father, how to be a man.”
Twice, the New Mexico High School Coaches Association named Brown as its Coach of the Year. Brown himself was a multi-sport athlete at St. Pius, where he graduated in 1964. He played baseball and basketball. He later graduated from the University of New Mexico.
He is survived by his wife, three children and many grandchildren. There was no immediate word about funeral services.