There will be some new faces walking the sidelines of New Mexico State University’s (NMSU) Pan American Center and Aggie Memorial Stadium for the upcoming season, with new coaches hired for three of NMSU’s premier sports programs. These additions bring excitement to Aggie sports fans and a lot of experience in their respective fields. Allow us to introduce you to each of these tremendously talented coaches — our newest neighbors in the community.
Jerry Kill will be leading the Aggie football team into the 2022 season. He received a standing ovation from the crimson faithful at the Pan Am Center when he was introduced at halftime during an Aggie basketball game and, according to the coach, the outpouring of support hasn’t stopped there. “The people of Las Cruces have been so welcoming to me,” Coach Kill said. “These are my kind of people. This town fits me like a glove.”
Coach Kill has had a reputation for rejuvenating football programs throughout his career. For more than 36 years Coach Kill has been a part of college athletics, and every program lucky enough to have him has shown remarkable improvement. Coach Kill’s stint at Minnesota took the Golden Gophers to three straight bowl games and earned him the 2014 Big Ten Coach of the Year award.
“I have always had a tremendous coaching staff behind me,” Coach Kill explained when asked about the reason for his success. “I have been smart enough to surround myself with great people who do things the right way. We’ll build a terrific foundation for these young men and the program.”
Las Cruces has always had a great affinity for the game on the gridiron, as we know from the annual Las Cruces versus Mayfield game, one of the greatest high school football rivalries in the country. In 2017, our community got an even bigger case of football fever when the Aggies won their first bowl game in more than half a century.
Coach Kill brings experience and excitement heading into the upcoming season and is ready to instill in his players the culture of our community. “We are going to work our butts off, just like the people of Las Cruces,” Coach Kill says with determination. “We will bring our lunch pails and hard hats every day.”
Women’s Basketball: Jody Adams-Birch
Jody Adams-Birch was named NMSU’s head women’s basketball coach in the spring of 2022 and brings with her a winning attitude and pedigree from the highest levels of college sports. As a student-athlete, she played and helped win an NCAA championship for the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers under the guidance of Pat Summitt (often regarded as the greatest women’s basketball coach in history) before pursuing her own coaching career in college
Coach Adams-Birch still carries her mentor’s words and philosophy with her every day, both in life and in her coaching: “Chase the light.” When asked about her experience with Coach Summitt, Coach Adams-Birch recalls, “Coach [Summitt] always saw beyond basketball, that basketball was just a vehicle to get the most out of a person. Basketball builds strength in teammates [and] encourages women to support women and celebrate their teammates. No one does it alone.”
Coach Adams-Birch took her first head-coaching job in 2007 and has been running winning programs ever since. At Wichita State, she still holds the record for the most wins in the school’s history for the women’s basketball program. She is known for her high-paced, disciplined teams and for transforming the Wichita State Shockers women’s program. A two-time Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year, Coach Adams-Birch has led multiple teams to the NCAA tournament, and several of her players have been drafted to the WNBA.
For every program, Coach Adams-Birch uses the skills and work ethic she had as the starting point guard of a national champion team and instills them in every player on her squad. “I ask that the women on our team have big belief, are driven, hard-working, and, most of all, confident when we hit the court,” Coach Adams-Birch says about her philosophy for winning. “We will be tougher and more confident than other teams we face.”
With nine returning players from last year’s team, Coach Adams-Birch is excited to continue the winning ways this core group has established. The support from the community has been infectious since Coach Adams-Birch arrived in the Mesilla Valley.
“This community is full of heart,” she says. “I have felt nothing but welcome and kindness from the people of Las Cruces. This community is there for each other, and we can’t wait to feel the
support next season.”
Men’s Basketball: Greg Heiar
Every coach at every level coaches to win the last game of the season, but only one coach and one team can be the last ones standing when the dust settles. At the end of the 2022 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) basketball season, Greg Heiar was that coach. Coach Heiar took a Northwest Florida State Junior College team that had won only six games the year before to winning the NJCAA championship. Of course, Coach Heiar did not have much time to rest on his laurels, because less than a week after hoisting the championship trophy he was offered the head-coaching job at NMSU.
The 2022 men’s basketball season was one of the most memorable in Aggie history, which was one of the exciting factors for Coach Heiar when he was offered the position. “It was incredible watching my friend [Coach Chris Jans] and that team accomplish what they did in the tournament,” remarks Coach Heiar. “There is such a great history with this program from the Final Four appearance to the 26 NCAA tournament appearances over the years . . . this job is a dream come true.”
Coach Heiar has more than two decades of coaching experience and has won more than 90 percent of the games he coached as a head coach. Part of his winning philosophy is being a players’ coach and making the student-athletes his top priority. Some of his techniques aim to keep the young athletes loose and confident, like playing their favorite music during practices, but others extend far beyond that. “I have an open door, even open home, policy for my players,” Coach Heiar says. “I want these young men to know they can come to me with anything, not just basketball stuff.”
Coach Heiar has four returning players from last season and has brought in some exciting recruits for the upcoming season, including his center, Deshawndre Washington, and starting point guard, Issa Muhammad, from his NJCAA championship team. Coach Heiar has gone international by bringing in Yuval Shaman of Israel and Sudan national Bol Kuir, who is 7 feet, 3 inches tall and drew interest from some of the top schools in the country.
Coach Heiar has also pulled one of the most celebrated local talents, NMSU second-generation player William “Deuce” Benjamin. Deuce was in each of the last three New Mexico high school basketball state championship games and led the state in scoring the past two years. Deuce’s father, William Benjamin, was an NMSU standout and named to the NMSU Hall of Fame this past year.
“I am excited to see this group of guys out there together,” Coach Heiar says of his team roster. “I think the great people of Aggie Nation will love to see what we have in store this season.”
The upcoming athletic season looks to be one of the most exciting our community has seen. We look forward to welcoming these coaches into our community and supporting our Aggies throughout every game and season until we wobble in our shoes!
Story and photography by Mike Cook
Additional photos courtesy
Originally published in Neighbors magazine | 2022
Posted by LasCruces.com