Both of New Mexico Highlands University’s head basketball coaches will end their six-year tenures with the school, the Optic learned late this past week.
Details were not made clear as of press time, but a source with the school administration confirmed that both coaches Joe Harge and Tiffany Darling are leaving NMHU.
Harge is best known, perhaps, for engineering the largest single-season improvement in NCAA men’s basketball history while at Highlands. In 2008-09, his first season at the helm of NMHU men’s basketball, the Cowboys finished 20-8, 19 wins better than the 1-25 tally at the end of the previous year.
Back-to-back 20-win seasons and a 19-win campaign in 2010-11 were highlighted by trips to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference postseason tournament. In 2009-10, the team came within a couple of possessions of the RMAC championship, losing 83-79 to Metro State.
But the Cowboys couldn’t sustain that early momentum, slipping to 12-14 in 2011-12, 13-14 in 2012-13 and 11-15 this past winter.
Notably, Harge made room on his roster for some top northern New Mexico players — Dominick Baca from Pecos, Daniel Gutierrez and Justin Bustos from Las Vegas, Ryan Gonzales of Pojoaque, Matthew Brito of Española among them — and they were contributors to the team’s successes.
For Darling, progress was made in less dramatic increments.
Highlands’ women went 3-22 her debut season — a modest two wins better than the previous season — before climbing to 11-15 the following year. They finished 13-13 in 2011-12, dipping to 4-22 in 2012-13 before improving to 12-14 this past winter.
In 2009-10, the Cowgirls stunned NCAA Division I foe Northern Arizona. That same season, they upset Colorado State-Pueblo, a defending RMAC tournament champion.
Throughout Darling’s time leading the program, she emphasized community outreach, having her players engage in multiple volunteer efforts. From visiting residents of local nursing homes to cleaning up areas in town, the Cowgirls were highly visible. While both head coaches staged camps and clinics for area basketball players, Darling in particular made an effort to target youngsters.
The exits of Harge and Darling could mean that hiring new basketball coaches will be among the first tasks for NMHU’s yet-to-be-hired athletic director. The school was to hold open forums with three finalists for that position this coming week on campus.