Tuohy lifted Newman basketball to unprecedented heights

Editor’s note: This is the fifth story in a nine-part series on the 2013 inductees to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Induction ceremonies will be held Saturday in Natchitoches.

Since Ed “Skeets” Tuohy Jr. was born and raised in Chicago and educated at St. Phillips High School. Since he harbored plans to go to college at Loyola, the most likely destination for him would seem to be Loyola-Chicago.

But a scholarship offer from another Loyola University — the one in New Orleans — had Tuohy spurning the City of Broad Shoulders for the Crescent City, the Big Easy, the Deep South.

After four years of basketball at Loyola, Tuohy was hired as an assistant football coach at Holy Cross High in charge of offensive and defensive linemen.

After two years there, Tuohy accepted the head basketball coaching position at Newman High, and his impact on the Uptown school was substantial and immediate.

Taking over a program that finished 13-12 in 1959-60, Tuohy’s first team quickly ignited. Newman capped a 32-0 season with a 63-57 victory against St. Matthews in the 1961 Class 1A state championship game of the inaugural Top 20 tournament in Shreveport.

Because of health issues, Tuohy was limited to a 15-year career at Newman, but his teams won 15 consecutive district championships and two more state titles in 1963 and ’64.

During one stretch, the Greenies had more than 100 consecutive district wins. They were undefeated in league play during Tuohy’s final six seasons. Tuohy finished his coaching career 403-74, a winning percentage of .845.

Tuohy joins Leslie Gaudet, Johnny Altobello and Joel Hawkins as the only high school boys’ basketball coaches inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, an honor Tuohy’s family will accept Saturday in Natchitoches.

On the ’61 team, Dick Buckman was the centerpiece, the first of eight Newman players selected all-state under Tuohy.

One season later, the arrival of Bobby Lane enabled the team to blossom with another 32-0 state championship team in 1963, beating University High 57-53 in the title game. In 1964, Lane led Newman to a 68-58 win over St. Amant in the championship game.

A three-time all-stater, Lane was a two-time all-state MVP and played college basketball at Davidson.

“Coach Tuohy’s strengths were that he combined extraordinary knowledge of the game with an ability to relate to his players,” Lane said. “He could motivate you without saying a word.

“In my last game as a senior against St. Amant, he walked into our locker room, and his pregame speech was four words: ‘Line up behind Bobby.’ After the game, he told me that he realized we were ready to play, and he didn’t want say a lot to spoil it.”

Newman had lost to St. Amant twice earlier in the 1964 season, with one anemic performance bringing out a side of Tuohy that Lane had never seen.

“We were shut out in the third quarter, and I played terribly,” said Lane. “This was the one time I saw him lose his temper. He was slamming doors all over the locker room and he just blasted us. But we deserved it.”

Lane said that later that night, he knocked on Tuohy’s hotel door and found a conciliatory coach.

“I was crying,” Lane admitted. “He took me in his arms and said he was still on our side and we still had a long season to come back. The way he treated me that night, I felt support and love. That conversation we had will remain with me forever. The next time we faced St. Amant, we became state champs.”

During his short stint at Holy Cross, Tuohy befriended Tony Reginelli, who followed Tuohy to Newman in 1961. Reginelli coached at Newman for 23 years before retiring in 1993 when the Greenies and quarterback Peyton Manning fell in the state playoffs.

“With Skeets, you couldn’t wait to get to work,” Reginelli said. “He had a joke for just about everyone, whether you were a farmer or a lawyer.”

Skeets Tuohy met his wife, Mida, when both were attending Loyola. They had four children, including one daughter and three sons — two of whom played basketball at Newman.

During his tenure, Tuohy’s teams never won less than 22 games and never lost more than nine. The Greenies reached the state tournament nine times in 15 seasons, including the finals in 1965.

A two-time coach of the Year in Louisiana, Tuohy has already been enshrined in the Allstate Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame and was honored as Mr. Basketball by the Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches.

After Tuohy’s retirement in ’75, his son Sean helped Newman win back-to-back Class 2A state championships in 1977 and ’78. Sean Tuohy signed with Ole Miss and led the Rebels to the Southeastern Conference tournament title during his stay in Oxford.

Ed Tuohy III played at Northwestern State. His last game as a Newman player was a 65-62 loos to Marion in the 1975 semifinals, also his father’s last game as a coach.

Tuohy suffered a stroke in March of that year while dining at Galatoire’s Restaurant in New Orleans.

Seven years later, Newman dedicated its gymnasium to Tuohy, who was driven to the gym by Ed III. But Skeets did not take part in the ceremony because of what cancer had done to his appearance. Less than 48 hours later, this son of an Irish immigrant died of colon cancer at the age of 51.

“Skeets had incredible enthusiasm, passion and charisma,” said Billy Fitzgerald, who served as an assistant and junior varsity coach under Tuohy and succeeded him as the Greenies’ head coach. “He was so engaging with his athletes that he was able to get them to play hard and smart.”