The state’s prep basketball community has lost another beloved coach.
Phil Griego, a popular and outgoing man who guided the St. Pius X girls basketball program to three state championships and 13 district titles in his nearly quarter century coaching the Sartans, died Sunday afternoon.
Griego, 60, passed from a combination of COVID-19 and leukemia, both of which were recently diagnosed, his daughter, Amy Ratliff, said.
“Everyone loved him,” Ratliff said through tears. “I don’t think we know anyone who (didn’t). He was kind and funny and he would do anything for you. He was just the perfect dad.”
Griego, a resident of Rio Rancho, died just days after being admitted to the hospital.
Ratliff said her father recently had contracted COVID-19, and had been having some difficulty breathing over the last few weeks.
After going to the hospital Monday, Griego was also diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, and couldn’t combat his COVID symptoms because of the leukemia, she said, adding that he began to show signs of struggling around Father’s Day.
Griego died about 2 p.m. Sunday. He had been the head boys JV basketball coach at Cleveland the past three seasons.
“I don’t even know what to say. It’s just devastating,” said Kevin Hillsey, who was Griego’s assistant coach at St. Pius for 21 seasons. “He was my best friend. His passing leaves a hole in my heart and a void that is going to be hard to replace.”
The genial Griego was always quick with a smile and handshake, and was admired and respected both by rival coaches and his players.
He led St. Pius to blue trophies in 2006, 2008 and 2009, and his Sartans were always a model of success.
There was an outpouring of grief on social media as the city learned of his passing.
“Wow this is awful news. He really helped me as a young assistant coach and new head coach. Prayers to his family. He was so excited to spend more time with them when he stepped down at Pius. Heartbreaking news,” St. Pius football coach Dave Montoya said on Twitter.
Current St. Pius girls head coach Brio Rode tweeted the following: “He was an amazing coach and even more amazing dad and grandfather. He will be missed deeply.”
Griego’s death comes not long after Hall of Fame coach Mike Brown and former University of New Mexico coach Brian O’Neill both died earlier this summer.
“Just by his record, you knew he was a tremendous coach,” said Hillsey. “He had such an innate feel for the game. He was not afraid to take some chances where others might not. But as good a coach as he was, he was an even better person. You don’t get many friends like that in your life.”
Not long after Griego resigned from St. Pius, Cleveland hired him to be the JV coach and varsity assistant.
“In three years, he became one of my closest friends, and the boys loved him,” Storm coach Sean Jimenez said. “He was a great mentor and he coached because he loved mentoring young people.”
Griego and his wife of over 40 years, Rosalie, have been together since they were 16.
He also is survived by his three children, including Eric Griego, who played for his father at Cibola, and Jessica Tafoya, who like Ratliff played basketball for their dad at St. Pius.
“He was hard working, the best coach out there,” Ratliff said. “Everyone respected him and loved him. And he was a mentor to so many kids.”
Griego is one of eight siblings, and a grandfather to four. He also is survived by his mother, Tarcila Griego.
“He was,” Hillsey said, “an unbelievably great human being.”
Services are pending.