Former Farmington basketball players reflect on Marv Sanders' influence, legacy

Matt Hollinshead
Farmington Daily Times
Former Farmington High School boys basketball coach Marv Sanders, who coached FHS from 1980 to 2003, won two state titles with the Scorpions in 1982 and 1986.

FARMINGTON — Marv Sanders helped set the standard for Four Corners basketball and how it should be played, and some of his former pupils are forever grateful to help carry on his legacy.

And when Sanders passed away on Dec. 30 after battling Parkinson’s Disease, according to Farmington High’s Facebook page, former FHS players that went on to become coaches themselves took the news hard because his influence was so profound.

“It’s a sad day… maybe fitting into a crappy year, right? He’ll never be forgotten, that’s for sure,” said former FHS player and coach Jay Collins, who played for Sanders from 1996 to 1999.

A New Mexico coaching legend

Sanders compiled a career record of 787-358 coaching six different teams between 1961 and 2012.

Sanders coached Farmington High’s boys basketball team from 1980 to 2003, winning two state titles in 1982 and 1986. Sanders concluded his tenure at FHS with a state finals appearance in 2003.

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.

“That doesn’t even tell the story,” said Collins, who’s now at Northwest College. “The entire community bought into Farmington High School basketball. … It was a good time to be a Scorpion, and that was because of Coach Sanders.”

Sanders also won state titles with Hatch Valley (1964) and Silver (1975).

Sanders, a 2015 New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame inductee, only trailed three other coaches (Ralph Tasker, Pete Shock and Jim Murphy) in the all-time win list for New Mexico boys basketball.

“He was a great coach, great inspirer, great leader,” said FHS baseball coach Danny Secrest, who played basketball under Sanders from 1985 to 1987. “He knew the game of basketball. Absolutely amazing.”

Secrest also said Sanders had a “win at all costs” approach.

A great defensive mind

Navajo Prep boys basketball coach Matt Melvin, who played at FHS under Sanders from 1998 to 2001, said Sanders’ attention to detail made a big impact, especially on the defensive end.

“He was going to stop practice to make sure you’re doing it the correct way, his way,” Melvin said. “He was really good (at) illustrating why things need to be done.”

Melvin said he remembered spending time in practice working on things like keeping the ball out of certain angles and not allowing baseline looks.

Melvin also said Sanders valued winning individual matchups on defense and players being able to help to cut drives off — which greatly influenced his philosophies as a defensive-minded coach today.

Former Farmington High School boys basketball coach Marv Sanders, right, passed away on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, after battling Parkinson's disease.

Melvin said he worked on defensive intensity as much as possible as a player, adding his role under Sanders was doing more of the dirty work as an off-ball defender.

“I was the defensive guy. … I’d try to guard the best player and take them out. … I think it definitely translates to my style of coaching,” Melvin said.

Secrest, who also served as Farmington's girls basketball coach from 2012 to 2016, said Sanders also valued things like ball fakes and bounce passes.

Sanders’ daily approach was 'all-business'

Collins said players knew what Sanders expected of them on and off the floor, and there was “no confusion” as to those expectations.

“That’s something I tried to emulate,” Collins said. “It was clear-cut. There was no ambiguity.”

Melvin said Sanders was also a good communicator in what he wanted his FHS teams to do, and that everyone had their eyes on the ball.

Sanders’ influence still alive and well

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.

Collins and Melvin both said they’re trying to restore those qualities that made Sanders a remarkable coach.

In hindsight, they expressed appreciation for Sanders and what he meant to New Mexico’s basketball scene.

“Looking at it later in life, what an amazing career at the high school level,” Melvin said.

Secrest said that Sanders’ example in stressing detail and doing the small things right were easily transferable to another sport, like baseball.

“Details are huge. … Marv instilled it in all of us,” Secrest said.

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577, and on Twitter at @MattH_717.

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