Ritchie McKay is beginning just his fifth season at the University of New Mexico, but he was born and raised on the proud tradition of Lobo basketball. In fact, like many UNM fans, McKay grew up with powerful visions of Cherry and Silver glory which were fostered by his late father, Joe McKay, a standout player for New Mexico from 1960-63.
While the younger McKay completed his playing days and began his promising coaching career in the Pacific Northwest, the University of New Mexico has always been in his heart.
McKay learned about the proud legacy of Lobo basketball, beginning with his father's days playing at a packed Johnson Gymnasium under legendary head coach Bob King. Attending his first college game as a 12-year-old, McKay cheered on the nationally-ranked Lobos as they battled Cal-State Fullerton in a 1978 NCAA Tournament game in Tempe, Ariz.
Now at the helm of the team he adored as a child, McKay has high hopes for the future success of New Mexico basketball. Armed with an intense work ethic and unwavering devotion to the well-being of the program, McKay is eager to steer the program back to national prominence.
The 41-year-old McKay was named the 18th head men's basketball coach at the University of New Mexico on March 28, 2002.
McKay's first season was all about rebuilding - rare for a program with just three losing seasons in the previous 40 years. Due to circumstances before he arrived and injuries after he took over, McKay was in command of a squad that featured just eight scholarship players for most of the year. While the 10-18 record was tough to swallow, McKay enjoyed coaching a hard-working group that featured the nation's leading scorer in Ruben Douglas and a cast of underclassmen who showed up to play every game and improved as the season progressed.
New Mexico continued to show progress in McKay's second season, posting a 14-14 record and having very competitive showings against top competition.
The Lobos led late in the game against Texas Tech before falling in the final minute. UNM also put a scare into No. 6 Wake Forest on the road before falling by nine. New Mexico did scratch out a pair of big home wins over BYU and Utah, both teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
It was a breakout season for the University of New Mexico in 2004-05 as it won the Mountain West Conference Tournament to culminate a sparkling nine-game winning streak and return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years. It was the first Big Dance for McKay, either as a player or coach.
New Mexico finished 26-7, the second-highest win total in school history and a 12-win improvement from the 2003-04 season. Only eventual national champion North Carolina and Texas A&M progressed by a greater margin that UNM did in 2004-05. It was also two more victories than the previous two seasons combined.
The No. 2 seed in the MWC Tournament in Denver, UNM ran past BYU, San Diego State and 15th-ranked Utah to claim the school's first conference tournament title since 1996.
Picked to finish fourth in the MWC preseason poll, UNM started the conference season at 1-3. However, the Lobos finished 10-4, placing second behind Utah. The 10 wins came on the heels of four straight losing records in conference play and were the most by a New Mexico team since 11 victories in the Western Athletic Conference in 1998.
A nine-game winning streak got UNM back into postseason play. The run started against Air Force on Valentine's Day when the quintet of David Chiotti, Troy DeVries, Danny Granger, Alfred Neale and Mark Walters started together for the first time. The nine-game skein remains the longest for a Ritchie McKay-coached team and is the Lobos' best run since taking nine straight in 2000-01. The 2004-05 Lobos also won five straight games away from Albuquerque, a feat last achieved in 1977-78.
Granger was the standout on a team saturated with unselfishness. The gifted do-everything Lobo was a third team All-American and MVP of the Mountain West Tournament. Granger's hard work at New Mexico ws rewarded handsomely as the Indiana Pacers made him the 17th overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft.
The winning continued in 2005-06 as the Lobos went 17-13 and barely missed out on postseason play. Walters earned a spot on the All-MWC first team. That made five straight years for UNM representation on the MWC first team, a claim no other school in the conference can make.
Most impressive is that all four of the outgoing seniors - Chiotti, Walters, Kris Collins and Jeff Hart - will receive their diplomas from UNM.
In fact, of the 11 Lobos that have completed their eligibility since Ritchie McKay took over the New Mexico program, eight have receive their diplomas. The other three - Douglas, Granger and Javin Tindall - are all playing professional basketball at some level.
The men's basketball team combined for a 2.97 grade point average during the 2006 spring semester. That's the highest semester GPA by the program since UNM began charting grades in the fall of 1988. In fact, two of the team's top-three GPAs have been registered under McKay's guidance.
In 10 years as a head coach, McKay has a career record of 150-141, including two-year stints each at Portland State, Colorado State and Oregon State.
McKay posted a 37-23 (.627) record at Colorado State, which included a 1999 National Invitational Tournament berth. The Rams defeated Mississippi State and in-state rival Colorado, before losing to eventual tournament champion California.
The 1999-2000 season featured the first year of play for CSU in the Mountain West Conference, and the Rams logged an 18-12 record and a fourth-place finish. A pair of victories over nationally-ranked opponents - the first time that had happened at CSU in a decade - and capturing the title of the second annual Pearl Harbor Classic in Hawaii were some of the highlights of the season. College Hoops Insider magazine noticed the success of the 2000 Rams and tabbed McKay as its MWC Coach of the Year.
Before arriving on the Colorado State campus in 1998, McKay served as the head coach at Portland State University. He was actually at PSU for three years. The first season of 1995-96 was spent developing a program that had been dormant for 15 years. McKay led the program to nine victories in the school's first season (1996-97) since the early 1980s.
After that initial season at Portland State, McKay was named one of six finalists for the Clair Bee Award, given annually to the coach with the most influence and innovation on the game of basketball. The other two finalists were Dean Smith of North Carolina and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke. The 1997-98 PSU team followed with a 15-12 mark and a third-place finish in the Big Sky Conference.
McKay's coaching career began in 1988 as a graduate assistant at the University of Washington. He then made stops as an assistant at Queens College in North Carolina (1989-90) where he worked for current Colorado State head coach Dale Layer, Seattle Pacific (1990-91), Bradley (1991-93), and back to Washington (1993-95). His coaching stints also include serving as an assistant to Jim Molinari at the 1997 World University Games in Italy where the USA captured the gold medal.
McKay earned his bachelor of arts degree in Athletic Administration from Seattle Pacific in 1987. A stellar player for the Falcons, McKay left the program as the school's single-season and career recordholder for steals, and he was third in career assists. He still holds the school record with 10 steals in a 1987 game against Pacific Lutheran.
McKay is married to the former Julie Summers. The couple has two sons, Luke, 8 (3-12-98) and Gabriel, 6 (3-4-00), a daughter, Ellie, 12 (6-8-94) and a niece, Chelsea.