He wants to be remembered as a regular guy who just happened to make a career out of having fun in a field he’s loved for a lifetime.
Sorry, Mr. Manning, but you’re so much more than that.
A teacher, coach and administrator for nearly half a century, Tom Manning was given the highest honor available for a high school sports figure when he was inducted into the New Mexico Activities Hall of Fame last week. He joins a list of 110 other inductees, a group that includes familiar names like former Santa Fe Indian School athletic director Ron Porterfield and former Pojoaque AD Matt Martinez, among others.
Manning, 72, is best known as the former athletic director at Santa Fe High and his alma mater, St. Michael’s. To a generation whose kids have grown up to have kids of their own, he’s known simply as “Coach,” a guy who cut his teeth in Santa Fe’s sports community by becoming a jack-of-all-trades as a coach and teacher at DeVargas Junior High in the 1970s and '80s.
His oldest son, David, summed it up best when he told his dad he was like the TV character whose job is the all-inclusive coach, the guy who has his hand in every sport, the guy who spends his life toting gear from one season to the next.
“David said I should have had one of those gray sweatshirts that just said, ‘Coach,’ because that’s what everyone knew me as,” Manning said with a laugh. “If everyone thinks of me as a coach, I’m good.”
Manning is part of a 2020 induction class — yes, 2020 — that includes Crit Caton from Artesia and Ernie Viramontes from Las Cruces. The trio was voted into the Hall last year, but the pandemic halted the ceremony until last weekend in Albuquerque.
“You know, getting into the Hall of Fame isn’t something I’ve ever really thought about because it’s not why I did any of this,” Manning said this week. “I can honestly say I found a job that was fun almost every single day. I’ve enjoyed every part of it, and as long as you’re having fun, you might as well keep doing it.”
Manning graduated from St. Michael’s and attended New Mexico State University. His first job out of college was as an elementary school teacher in Las Cruces. He dabbled in coaching, volunteering his time at the local Boys Club. Those first few experiences ignited a passion he already knew was there, sending his career in a new direction.
He returned to his hometown when he was recruited onto the coaching staff for Santa Fe High’s football team. He joined a staff filled with childhood friends, all of whom worked for head coach David Church.
Church led the Demons to the 1979 Class 4A state championship, the only public school football title in Santa Fe’s history.
“I always knew I wanted to be back here, but being part of that coaching staff with all those guys was one of the best experiences I’ve had,” Manning said.
Through the years, he and his wife raised three kids, each of whom were accomplished athletes at Santa Fe High and St. Michael’s. By then, he was entrenched in the administrative side of things, serving as Santa Fe High’s athletic director for nine years when his two oldest kids were students there.
It’s a job he credits David Rodriguez for. In 1994, Rodriguez encouraged Manning to apply for the opening as the school’s AD.
“I’m not sure I’d be where I am without David giving me a call and talking me into it,” Manning said.
After 28 years in service to public schools, Manning retired in order to take the same position at St. Michael’s. During his time there, the school won more than 50 state championships and more than twice as many district titles. Along the way, he had some of the state’s most successful coaches working for him, including Ron Geyer, Joey Fernandez, Lenny Gurule and his longtime friend, Rodriguez.
“If you had told me when I first started out that I’d be returning to St. Mike’s and working here all these years, I’d have told you you were crazy,” Manning said. “It’s like the old saying: If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. I had a great thing going at DeVargas and then at Santa Fe High. It’s just funny the way things work out.”
It hasn’t all been smooth. There have been more coach dismissals and disciplinary moves than he can care to count. That says nothing for the endless interactions he’s had with disgruntled parents and fans.
At the end of the day, the memories of what the job has meant drowns everything else out. Some of his fondest memories are those he had with his children. His daughter won a state title in volleyball at Santa Fe High; his oldest son was a three-year starter at quarterback for the Demons and is now the school’s athletic trainer; his youngest son quarterbacked St. Michael’s to a state title.
“There are so many things I’m going to forget, but some of those memories will be with me forever,” Manning said.
Like the time his son, David, was a sophomore and in one of his first games as a starter when the Demons traveled to Clovis. The team lost, but his son played well. As he was leaving Leon Williams Stadium, Clovis’ legendary coach, Eric Roanhaus, put a hand on Manning’s shoulder and lauded the effort his son had given.
Or when, after watching his youngest son, Mark, lead the Horsemen to the 2007 football title, remembering how Mark had walked away from football for two years after taking a huge hit in YAFL.
“Not bad for a YAFL dropout, right?” David told his dad afterward.
“Things like that, they’ll always be fresh,” Manning said. “Having kids I coached at DeVargas 40 years ago come up to me and still call me ‘Coach,’ that’s the things I’ll remember.”
Manning stepped aside as AD at St. Michael’s before the pandemic hit. Now the assistant AD to Kevin Garcia, he’s just as present and visible as he ever was.
How long will he continue now that he’s forever immortalized in the state’s landing spot for legendary figures? Only he, himself, can answer that.
“It’s like I tell everyone, as long as you love what you do — and that’s eating a favorite meal, doing a favorite job or having your favorite people around — keep doing it,” Manning said. “I don’t plan on going anywhere because, to me, it’s not really work.”