Family of late New Mexico lineman sues former coach, school

Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Former New Mexico coach Bob Davie ignored a player’s plea for help in his fight against depression and instead made the lineman play a game before he took his own life, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The lawsuit filed in federal court alleges the University of New Mexico, Davie and the NCAA didn’t protect 21-year-old Nahje Flowers, who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in November.

Court documents said the defensive standout had sought counseling to fight depression but Davie overruled a therapist’s recommendation that Flowers take some time off. He died days after, the lawsuit said.

“The university’s football program carried more weight than the health and well-being of the student-athlete,” lawyer Bob Hilliard said. “He finally found no way out than to take his own life.”

Michael Kennedy, a lawyer for Davie, did not immediately return an email and phone message seeking comment.

University of New Mexico spokeswoman Cinnamon Blair said the school doesn’t comment directly on pending or active litigation.

“The mental and physical well-being of our students is of the greatest importance to the University of New Mexico, and the loss of a student is tragic and affects the entire Lobo community deeply,” Blair said. “Nahje made great contributions to UNM as a student and an athlete, and our thoughts continue to be with his family.”

NCAA spokeswoman Emily James declined to comment.

Hilliard said an autopsy later found that Flowers suffered from CTE – the brain injury associated with repeated blows to the head that can lead to depression, dementia and erratic behavior.

When relatives sought answers after Flowers’ death, his father, La’Vonte, said Davie was “very disrespectful.” La’Vonte Flowers said his other son was angry at Davie’s behavior, and the coach had to be separated from him.

“He said, `What do you want from me? … Do I need to get a lawyer or something?”‘ Vickie Gilmore, Flowers’ mother, said. “He walked up on me and my other son walked on him.”

Gilmore said Davie then stepped away while laughing.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in damages and legal fees.

Also representing the family is civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is working for the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake – three Black people who were killed or seriously injured by police officers, leading to protests around the country.

Flowers was from Los Angeles, where he played football at Dorsey High School. He came to New Mexico in 2016.

Flowers had 13 tackles and 1 1/2 sack in 2019.

Davie stepped down in November following a rocky tenure and a 35-63 record over eight seasons. He previously coached at Notre Dame from 1997-2001. Davie was suspended for 30 days in 2018 because of alleged physical abuse of players.