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Former Weber State men’s basketball coach Neil McCarthy dies at 81

By Brett Hein - | Sep 20, 2021

Photo supplied, Weber State Athletics

In this undated photo, head coach Neil McCarthy, top, poses with his Weber State basketball seniors ahead of the 1979-80 season, from left: David Johnson (20), Richard Smith (32), Bruce Collins (22) and Mark Mattos on the Weber State University campus in Ogden.

Former Weber State men’s basketball coach Neil McCarthy died of natural causes Saturday, Sept. 18, at his home in Salt Lake City. He was 81 years old.

“Neil described himself as ‘the Big Dog’ and was proud of his title as an Army boxing champion, but the game of basketball was Neil’s passion and he dedicated his life to playing and coaching the sport,” reads his obituary published in The Salt Lake Tribune.

McCarthy coached the Wildcats from 1974-85. Over 11 seasons, he compiled a 205-105 record and took WSU to the NCAA Tournament four times. He was inducted into the Weber State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000 and sat atop the program’s list of all-time coaching wins until Randy Rahe’s current tenure.

Most notably, McCarthy led the famed 1979-80 team to a 24-2 regular-season record, which grew to 26-2 after winning the Big Sky Tournament. With seniors Bruce Collins, David Johnson, Mark Mattos and Richard Smith, the Wildcats peaked at No. 15 in the Associated Press Top 25 and finished No. 17 in the postseason rankings. It’s the only team in WSU history to be ranked in the AP Top 25.

Photo supplied, Weber State Athletics In this undated photo, Weber State men’s basketball head coach Neil McCarthy yells from the sideline during a game at the Dee Events Center in Ogden.

Those all-time Wildcats suffered a rough end, losing on their home floor to Lamar, 87-86, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

McCarthy’s success as coach also helped usher in the opening of the Dee Events Center in 1977. The 1979-80 team drew an average of 9,868 fans over 17 games, including 10,429 in nine Big Sky games.

After going 20-9 in the 1984-85 season, McCarthy was hired away by New Mexico State, where he coached for 12 seasons and compiled a record of 248-123. His total college coaching record was 453-228 (.665). His tenure at NMSU ended with his firing following the 1996-97 season, which later saw the NCAA vacate the Aggies’ 19-9 record due to academic fraud.

McCarthy was born May 18, 1939, in San Francisco. He earned two degrees from Sacramento State and began his coaching career at St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School in Vallejo, California, before being hired at WSU.

“I understand that some of the things he did, he didn’t have to do for me, but that’s just my experience,” former NMSU player William Benjamin told Las Cruces Sun News. “Neil did some positive things for a lot of people, and I’m one of them.”

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