By Dave Wagner
If his health would let him, Eastern New Mexico University’s Bud Elliott would probably go on coaching forever.
As it is, it wasn’t easy for the veteran coach — he turned 73 on Christmas Eve — to step down.
Elliott spent 48 seasons as a high school and college head football coach, beginning in 1953 and ending with his 11th campaign at ENMU this fall.
He has had to deal with health issues in later years, forcing him to readjust his work schedule.
Elliott has undergone three bypass surgeries, two while at Eastern, as well as kidney dialysis three times a week the past few years.
He had hip replacement surgery in 2003 after a play in a spring scrimmage spilled over the sideline and the coach wasn’t able to get out of the way.
“I struggle getting around with that hip,” he acknowledged.
In 37 years as a college coach, he posted a record of 205-179-9, including 68-49-2 at Eastern. The Greyhounds had nine winning seasons under his direction, including the last seven.
His first win of 2004 was the 200th of his career, a 39-0 thrashing of Southwestern Oklahoma. He was the 46th coach in NCAA history to reach the 200-win mark.
“I have a little trouble accepting that I’m 72 years old,” Elliott said after the Nov. 6 season finale, a 38-10 rout of Western New Mexico at Greyhound Stadium. “But I just feel like this is the time (to retire) and turn it over to the younger ones.
“I just loved the challenge, and I love our players and coaches. I’m going to miss it all.”
Elliott told the team of his plans during the first week of practice.
“I’m doing something I really love,” he said of coaching. “I really wrestled with (the decision to retire) for quite a while, but I’m at peace with it.”
Eastern didn’t go far to find a replacement, choosing defensive coordinator Mark Ribaudo to fill Elliott’s shoes. Ribaudo and offensive coordinator Mike Howard were with Elliott for eight years at ENMU, and Howard spent four seasons as an assistant under Elliott at Northwest Missouri State in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Numerous former ENMU players have also stayed around to join Elliott’s staff over the years.
Elliott said part of the reason he retired at this time was to try to keep Ribaudo around. He had promoted Ribaudo to assistant head coach last year.
“He had so many good job offers that I was afraid he might get away from us, and I didn’t want to see that happen,” Elliott said.
The feeling was mutual.
“He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Ribaudo said. “Coach Elliott is a hall of fame coach. He’s taught me more about everything in football than I think I’ll get in the next 20 years.”