Farmington basketball coaching legend Marv Sanders dies after battling Parkinson's disease

James Yodice, Albuquerque Journal
Former Farmington High School boys basketball coach Marv Sanders, who won two state titles with the Scorpions in 1982 and 1986, passed away on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, after battling Parkinson's disease.

Marv Sanders, the fourth-winningest high school boys basketball coach in New Mexico history who won four state championships during an illustrious Hall of Fame career, has died.

The Farmington High School Facebook page on Dec. 30 said Sanders passed away following a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease. 

Sanders’ exact age could not immediately be confirmed, but he was believed to be 80 or 81.

“RIP coach Sanders. I love you and thank you for all that you gave me and so many others,” one of Sanders’ greatest players at Farmington, Rob Robbins, posted on Facebook  in a tribute to his former coach. “You were always there for me. You were the epitome of a leader.” 

Sanders won 787 boys games in a four decades-long career that included lengthy head coaching stops in Farmington and Silver City, according to the New Mexico Activities Association website.

He also coached in Hatch, Portales, Lovington and Mentone, Indiana. He announced his retirement following the 2003 season in Farmington.

But then his actual win total climbed well over 800, as he surprisingly came out of retirement to coach the Capitan girls in 2006. He earned career victory No. 800 with the Tigers in late November of 2007.

His exact win total, combining boys and girls, is unclear, although he did pick up more than 80 girls victories in Capitan through the 2011-12 season, according to MaxPreps.com.

In Farmington, where there is an annual regular-season tournament named for Sanders, he led the Scorpions to a pair of state titles. His son Mike buried two late free throws to cement an undefeated campaign in 1982. The Scorpions won another Class 4A title in 1986. Sanders coached the Scorpions from 1980-2003.

Former Farmington High School boys basketball coach Marv Sanders poses with former Navajo Prep boys basketball coach Rick Hoerner, left, and former Farmington High boys basketball player and coach Jay Collins, right, during the Marv Sanders Invitational in December of 2018.

He also coached Silver for nine years, including to the Class 3A crown in 1975, the school’s first title in that sport. In his second season at Hatch Valley, he led the Bears to the Class B title in 1964.

“He was always a very gentlemanly type of coach,” said the now-retired Frank Castillo, who coached Cibola when the Scorpions beat the Cougars in the 1986 title game. “He was always very nice and cordial and fun. Just a good guy, to be honest with you.”

Sanders was inducted into the New Mexico High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor in 1991. The 1960 Western New Mexico graduate was inducted into the WNMU Hall of Fame in 2000. He twice was an all-conference basketball player with the Mustangs. 

The Indiana native was formally inducted into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.

Sanders coached three other prep teams into the season’s final game: Silver in 1972, Lovington in 1979 and Farmington in 2003.

He announced his retirement after the 2003 season, although the itch to return surfaced three years later. Sanders was in Ruidoso, retired and playing a lot of golf, he said, when the boys coach at Capitan asked him to help and coach the girls. He accepted the offer.

“It feels good to be back,” the then-66-year-old Sanders told the Journal at the 2007 state tournament, which was the first for Capitan’s girls since 1990. “It’s funny how you’re away and you come back and those flames kind of heat you up again. It brings those same old feelings back. It’s no different than the past.”

Sanders’ 1975 championship at Silver High was unique in that one of his assistants was Pete Shock. Shock, who went on to have a glorious Hall of Fame career himself at Cliff, is one of the three men in New Mexico to have coached more boys basketball victories than Sanders. The other two are Ralph Tasker, who ranks first, and Jim Murphy of Hope Christian, who ranks third and is still active.

“He’d fight the hell out of you during a game, but after the game, he was your friend,” said a tearful Jim Hulsman, the longtime former coach at Albuquerque High, upon hearing the news Saturday of Sanders’ death. “The best way to sum it up, he was a credit to the profession. He was just wonderful.”

During Sanders’ career, he also coached golf, cross country, baseball and track and field.

“I hope that what I coached is something they can use the rest of their lives,” Sanders said when WNMU inducted him into its Hall of Fame. “Sports help build character.”

Albuquerque Journal preps sports writer James Yodice can be reached at 505-823-3950 or by email at jyodice@abqjournal.com.

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