He was gruff and often lovably irascible, but there was never any doubt that Jim Bradley possessed one of the great football minds in the history of New Mexico high school football.
His prodigious life ended Wednesday night in his hometown. Bradley, widely considered the Godfather of football in Las Cruces, was 82.
“Today,” said a tweet from @mhstrojans, the Mayfield High School football Twitter handle, “we lost the Greatest Trojan.”
The beloved and gravelly voiced Hall of Fame coach led and Mayfield and Roswell to multiple state championships during an illustrious career that included 310 prep victories. He also is a former head coach at his alma mater New Mexico State.
“Underneath that tough shell was a guy that made a big difference in the lives of a lot of people,” said Artesia coach Cooper Henderson, who faced Bradley multiple times when Bradley was coaching Roswell High.
News of Bradley’s death spread quickly Wednesday night.
“He was a legend, and the guy did so much for New Mexico football,” said Las Cruces High head coach Jim Miller, who played for Bradley at Roswell. “He’s a coach that will go down maybe as the top coach in the history of New Mexico football.”
Bradley reportedly had been in hospice for the past few days after suffering a health setback. He suffered a heart attack and two strokes in the late winter of 2012, robbing him of that distinctive voice.
Bradley coached Mayfield to five championships and Roswell to a pair of blue trophies.
“I always enjoyed the relationship we had with one another,” Clovis coach Eric Roanhaus said. “Because of the way he was, he made you raise the level of your coaching.”
Bradley’s last season as a head coach was 2005. He retired just a week after leading Mayfield to a 14-0 state championship season.
Mayfield won a state championship with Bradley in 1971, six years after the school opened. It was another 24 years before the Trojans won another, also with Bradley.
During that nearly quarter-century in between, he led Roswell High to state crowns in Class 4A – then New Mexico’s largest classification – in 1987 and 1988.
“To lose somebody of that caliber is something people will remember forever,” Miller said. “He was such a great person. We’re gonna miss that guy.”
Bradley returned home to Las Cruces – where he was born and raised – in 1994, and the Trojans flourished under Bradley with four additional championships.
Mayfield won state in 1995 and 1996, 1998 and then his last one in 2005. Two of Bradley’s sons, Mike and Gary, were coordinators on that team.
Soon after retiring, Mike Bradley became the Trojans’ head coach, although Jim Bradley remained on the staff as an associate coach, handling the offense. Mike Bradley remains Mayfield’s head coach.
Bradley was inducted into the New Mexico High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor in 1990. He entered the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2000, and he was inducted into the Albuquerque/New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame in 2009. Five times he was chosen the New Mexico Coach of the Year.
Bradley’s coaching style was distinct and very much like his outward demeanor: tough. He demanded commitment from his players, and his high standards were largely the reason his programs enjoyed such robust success.
“He was an old-school guy,” Miller said, explaining Bradley’s recipe for success. “Some people have that ‘it’ factor, that something you were born to do. And I think he had that, that ‘it’ factor of being able to mold young men.”
His magnificent career record as a prep head coach was 310-91-9. He won 90 games in Roswell, 220 with Mayfield.
“I don’t think people are going to realize what a tremendous effect he had on football throughout the whole state until somewhere down the line,” a somber Roanhaus said. He and Bradley split six state-championship game matchups. “He will be sorely missed by the rest of us.”
Bradley was first named head football coach at Mayfield before the 1965 season.
His success at the high school level drew the attention of New Mexico State, which hired him to coach the Aggies from 1973-77. He was 23-31-1 in those five seasons. His win percentage of .427 is tops among the past 10 coaches at NMSU since 1967.
“The Aggie family gives our sympathy to the Bradley family in their loss. Coach Bradley was a great Aggie and had a tremendous impact on our community and the state, not only as a coach but as a role model and mentor,” NMSU head coach Doug Martin said in a statement.
Bradley’s 310 prep wins rank him second on the all-time list. Roanhaus has 328 as he begins his 38th season with the Wildcats.
Roanhaus, Bradley and Bill Gentry are the only three with more than 300 victories. Gentry, who coached at Highland and Eldorado, retired with 305.
Bradley’s teams at Mayfield and Roswell finished state runner-up a combined eight times.
Only two men – Henderson (14 with Ruidoso and Artesia) and Roanhaus (10 in Clovis) – have won more New Mexico state championships than Bradley, whose Roswell and Mayfield squads were for decades symbols of excellence.
Bradley was a four-sport athlete – football, baseball, basketball and track – at Las Cruces High, and later played football at NMSU. After two years in the Army, his first coaching job came at Las Cruces in 1958, when he was the JV football coach and assistant baseball coach.
As head baseball coach, he led the Bulldawgs to a blue trophy in 1963.
New Mexico State lured Bradley away from Mayfield in 1973, but he was fired after five seasons. NMSU had three five-win seasons under Bradley.
After a couple of years out of coaching, he got back into the game at Roswell High in 1980. During his time in Roswell, he coached head-to-head against his son Jim, who was the head coach at Santa Fe. Gary Bradley later became the head coach at Farmington, leading the Scorpions to a state title in 2013. Gary is now the head coach at Carlsbad.
Bradley is also survived by his wife, Phyllis, and his daughter, Debbie.
New Mexico loses a legend