(Part 4 of a 9-part series on the 2013 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductees)
(Written for the Louisiana Sports Writers Association)
Since Edward 'Skeets' Tuohy, Jr. was born and raised and then educated at Chicago's St. Phillips High School and, since he harbored plans to attend college at Loyola, the most likely destination for a native of the Windy City would seemingly 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 combing four years' worth of academics and basketball at Loyola, Tuohy was eventually hired as an assistant football coach at Holy Cross High in charge of offensive and defensive linemen.
After two years at Holy Cross, Tuohy accepted the head basketball coaching position at Isidore Newman High in New Orleans.
His impact on the Uptown school would be as substantial as it was immediate.
Taking over a program whose successes had rivaled that of the $2 bill — one that finished a lackluster 13-12 in 1959-'60 — Tuohy's first team quickly ignited and never cooled. Newman culminated an unblemished 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.
Due to health issues, Tuohy was limited to an abbreviated 15-year career at Newman but his teams captured 15 consecutive district championships and two more state titles in 1963 and '64. During one stretch, the Greenies claimed more than 100 consecutive district victories and were undefeated in league play during the final six seasons. Tuohy wound up with a career coaching record of 403-74, for a sparkling winning percentage of .845.
Tuohy joins Leslie Gaudet of Pine Prairie, Johnny Altobello of De La Salle and St. Aloysius High in New Orleans and Joel Hawkins of Southern Lab in Baton Rouge as the only four high school boys' basketball coaches inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Tuohy's family will accept the honor Saturday, June 29, at a sold-out induction ceremony in Natchitoches on the weekend the long-awaited Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Museum opens its doors.
On that first squad in '61, Dick Buckman served as the centerpiece for the state titlists as he became the first of eight Newman players selected All-State under Tuohy.
One season later, the arrival of Newman great Bobby Lane would enable Newman basketball to blossom by adding titles in 1963, with a 57-53 victory against University High, and again in 1964, with a 68-58 victory against St. Amant. The 1961 and '63 teams each finished 32-0.
A three-time All-Stater, Lane became a two-time All-State MVP who signed in basketball with Davidson College. He now lives in Pleasanton, Calif.
"Coach Tuohy's strengths were that he combined extraordinary knowledge of the game with an ability to relate to his players," said Lane. "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 on two occasions 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."
Tuohy's compassionate side was not limited to athletes. Veteran New Orleans Times-Picayune and States-Item columnist Angus Lind was but 16 years old at Newman when his father died. Tuohy stepped front-and-center to help fill the void.
"Basically he just included me in a lot of things," said Lind. "We ate pizza together and he let me go scout with him and I was the team manager in football and basketball. He always kept me laughing during an unhappy time in my life."
During his short stint at Holy Cross, Tuohy befriended another assistant, Tony Reginelli, who followed Tuohy to Newman in 1961. Reginelli would eventually coach 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," said Reginelli. "He had a joke for just about everyone, whether you were a lawyer, a farmer or a lawyer."
Billy Fitzgerald, who succeeded Tuohy as Newman's head basketball coach, recalled a comical meeting that Tuohy had with a promising young point guard named Donald Newman about attending the Uptown school.
"I tell this story all the time," said Fitzgerald. "Skeets told Donald that, if he came to Newman, he would make sure that his last name appeared on the front and the back of his uniform." The sales approach did not work in this instance. Donald Newman attended Brother Martin and helped the Crusaders claim a state championship in 1974.
"Skeets would tell kids, 'Son we can win here at Newman with you. And son, we can win here at Newman without you. But I would prefer to win with you'," Fitzgerald added.
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. All three boys played hoops collegiately.
Sarah, the oldest, is retired following a career as a computer pioneer and teacher.
Ed Tuohy III played basketball at Northwestern State and worked for 34 years in the restaurant business, mostly in Las Vegas. He and Sarah live in the New Orleans area. Ed III is finishing work on his college degree and also serves as a jayvee, 8th-grade and varsity assistant volunteer basketball coach at Ben Franklin. He remembers the occasions when Newman was about to play Ben Franklin, his father would tell the players to "get ready to face the 120's." Skeets called them the 120's because of their lofty IQs.
Two years after Tuohy's retirement in '75, his son Sean helped Newman claim back-to-back Class 2A state championships in 1977 and '78 in Lake Charles. Sean Tuohy signed with Ole Miss and led the Rebels to the Southeastern Conference tournament championship during his stay in Oxford.
Sean and his wife Leigh Ann were featured in the hit movie "The Blind Side" as parents who adopted Michael Oher, who played collegiately at Ole Miss and now performs for the 2013 Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. Sean owns a host of fast food restaurants and lives in Memphis where he helps broadcast Memphis Grizzlies games.
Younger brother Seamus, who played at UNO, received a PhD. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and now lives in Boston. He is credited with scoring the final basket at UNO's old 'Chamber of Horrors' gymnasium
Ed Tuohy III, whose last game as a Newman player in the 1975 playoffs was also his father's last game as coach, recalled how irrelevant Newman basketball seemed to at least one member of the faculty during its formative years.
"We were playing a home game one afternoon when the head of the Guidance Department came on to the floor to talk to my Dad right in the middle of a game. She said there was a representative from Harvard at school and he wanted to see one of the players. And could Dad take that player out of the game."
Guess who won that skirmish?
Ed III also recalled another occasion when his father seemed to have extra sensory perception (ESP).
"We were losing a game in the fourth quarter by one point with just a few seconds left. In the huddle, my Dad said to a player named David Sylvester that the other team was going to inbound the ball, David was going to steal it and make a layup and we were going to win the game. Well, they inbounded the ball, David stripped it from the other player, made a layup and we won by a point. I still wonder if that wasn't just pure luck."
During his tenure, Tuohy's teams never won less than 22 games per season and never lost more than nine. The Greenies made appearances at the state tournament nine times in 15 seasons, including the finals in 1965.
A two-time All-State coach of the Year, 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 (LABC).
In addition to Buckman and Lane, other All-State honorees from Newman during the Tuohy era included Al Goodman, Howard Thompson (twice), Ray Brown, Jay Lapeyre (twice), Wally Marcus (twice) and Ed Tuohy III (twice).
Tuohy's last game as coach took place in 1975, when the Greenies fell to Marion 65-62 at the Top 24 Tournament semifinals in Alexandria. Tuohy suffered a stroke in March of that year while dining at Galatoire's Restaurant in New Orleans.
According to Ed Tuohy III, his father's nickname was derived from a character in the old Katzenjammer Kids cartoons during the first half of the 20th century and their last name is the oldest recorded in the history of Ireland.
In September of 1982, Newman dedicated its gymnasium to Tuohy, who was driven to the gym by Ed III but Skeets did not take part because what cancer had done to his appearance. Less than 48 hours later, this son of an Irish immigrant died of colon cancer at age 51. His wife would join him in 2009.
"Skeets had incredible enthusiasm, passion and charisma," said Fitzgerald, who served as an assistant and jayvee coach under Tuohy. "He was so engaging with his athletes that he was able to get them to play hard and smart."
Bobby Lane also recounted a well-documented story about Tuohy that demonstrated his intolerance toward the racial discrimination so prevalent in the South during the 1960s.
"He had closed the gym doors for a scheduled scrimmage on Saturday morning against St. Augustine, which was an all-black school," said Lane. But one of Uptown neighbor became alarmed when she saw the St. Aug players sitting by the gym, Lane said.
"She called Coach Tuohy and told him, 'Coach there are a bunch of colored boys outside the gym.' Tuohy said, 'Oh really lady? What color are they?' and he hung up."
Lane said, "I learned more about race relations that morning than at any other time."
Apparently a lot of young people learned an awful lot from Edward 'Skeets' Tuohy, Jr. — and so did at least one guidance counselor.