LAS CRUCES – Keith Colson, a men’s basketball assistant for New Mexico State’s Final Four team in 1969-70 and later the school’s athletic director, died Sunday at age 88, the school announced on Thursday.
Colson, a New Mexico State athletics Hall of Fame member, is survived by wife, Evelyn, his son, Louie Keith Colson, daughters Sally Johnson, Martha Akers and Mary Jones, 13 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Memorial services take place Saturday, 10 a.m., at Getz Funeral Home (1410 East Bowman Ave.) in Las Cruces.
Born on Sept. 18, 1934, Colson was a four-sport star at Ringling (Oklahoma) High School before he was recruited by Presley Askew to play basketball at Connors State in Oklahoma.
When Askew took over at NMSU, he brought on two notable players – first Lou Henson, and then Colson – to play for the Aggies. Connors played at NMSU from 1954-56; the 1955-56 team went 16-7.
It was the first of several steps Colson took that were impacted by the late Hall of Fame coach Henson, who was one of his father’s “best friends,” Louie Keith Colson told the Journal in 2020 upon Henson’s death.
After they played at New Mexico State, Henson took a coaching job at Las Cruces High, and Keith Colson became his assistant.
Three state championships later, Henson moved into collegiate coaching, taking over at Hardin Simmons in 1962 and taking Colson with him. But Colson stayed just one season before returning to Las Cruces to become the first coach at Mayfield High. Then when Henson returned to his alma mater to begin his Aggie coaching career in 1966, Colson became his assistant coach and assistant athletic director.
In 1969-70, Henson and Colson took the program to an all-time height, leading the Aggies to a 27-3 record and a Final Four berth, where they lost to eventual champion UCLA.
But NMSU says Colson’s greatest contributions were yet to come.
Colson took over as New Mexico State AD following Henson’s exit in 1975 to take the basketball coaching job at Illinois. Colson oversaw the athletic department for 11 years (1975-86) and helped instrument the transformation from a small, independent athletic program to a member of the Big West and building the framework for the department that exists today.
During Colson’s tenure, NMSU facilities experienced the greatest growth in school history as he spearheaded the construction of Aggie Memorial Stadium, the Presley Askew Baseball Field, the NM State Softball Complex and new facilities for tennis and track. Nine Aggie and Roadrunner teams won nine conference championships while helping establish attendance records in both football and basketball.