By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
It was a passion for sports that made Bruce Scroggins a coach. But those in his field said it was his compassion for the athletes that set Scroggins apart.
Scroggins, 59, was a coach for numerous schools in New Mexico and Texas, a state champion many times over and a best friend to dozens.
“If you were his friend, you were his friend for life,” his widow, Mary Jo Scroggins, said.
The Claude, Texas native, whose coaching stops included Clovis, Texico, Alamogordo, Bovina and Grandview, Texas, died July 26 of liver failure.
Longtime Clovis football coach Eric Roanhaus first met Scroggins when the two went to West Texas State University, but didn’t get to know him until they both joined the Clovis football staff in 1973.
It was years later that he joined Roanhaus, and coached the offensive line — including the final two years of Clovis’ five-straight state championships from 1981-85.
Phil Lopez, head football coach and athletic director at El Paso Bel Air High, said Scroggins moved him from offensive line to quarterback and cornerback in seventh grade. The move, a surprise to Lopez, led to a college football career at cornerback for New Mexico Highlands and helped pave the way for more than 25 years of coaching.
Lopez, entering his third year at Bel-Air, tries to be both a Roanhaus-style disciplinarian and a Scroggins-style friend.
“There’s always a balance when it comes to a coaching staff,” Lopez said. “Coach Scroggins was able to be that balance.”
When Roanhaus would get on a player for a bad decision, Scroggins would be right there to remind him that play was in the past.
Lopez said a Scroggins saying he uses on his football team comes from his seventh-grade season, when the players were told to hold onto each other’s shoulder pads and chant, “There ain’t no flies on us.” The players asked what it meant, and he told them they were never dead meat.
The players respected Scroggins, but never mistook his kindness for weakness.
“He loved the kids, and the kids knew it,” Roanhaus said. “They knew it, and they would walk through fire for him.”
The love built off the field, as well, as Scroggins could create a friendship or a romantic relationship quickly. Mary Jo Scroggins said she met him one Sunday in 2005 in the greeting card section of a grocery story, and they were dating “really, really quickly” after that.
Though the relationship only went a few years, Mary Jo said the romance was always there, whether it was through a note on the car windshield, surprise flowers or a soft drink delivered to her at work.
But it was in athletics where he excelled, and Roanhaus said his niche was more in track, where he played a pivotal role infusing winning in a program that now has 12 state titles.
“His first love was track,” Mary Jo said. “He felt he and Bobby Tanner really started the track genes in Clovis and started the winning streaks in Clovis. He gave 100 percent to whatever sport he was teaching.”
Scroggins also loved a joke, even if it was on him, and Roanhaus derided Scroggins’ hometown Mustang football team as the Claude-hoppers whenever they lost a game.
Franky Leal of Clovis said as a player and a friend of Scroggins, he never saw the man without a smile.
But he wasn’t without expectations.
“He wasn’t one that would yell at you, but he would look you in the eye,” said Leal, who played for Scroggins at Gattis Junior High and Clovis High. “If you did something wrong, he would make you understand you did something wrong and how you could be a better player.”
And it didn’t matter what level of player they were, said Eddie Kilmer of Alamogordo. Kilmer, who coached against Scroggins at Marshall Junior High and with him on the Clovis staff, said Scroggins always found a way to make a kid want to be a little better.
“Coach Roanhaus won a lot of games,” Kilmer said, “because our average players played great, and Bruce had a lot to do with that.”