Former Skyhawk basketball coach Art Tolis passes away

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WPSD Sports

MARTIN, Tenn. – Art Tolis, The University of Tennessee at Martin’s fourth head coach in men’s basketball history, passed away on Jan. 22 at the age of 79. Visitation is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Honaker Funeral Home on Friday, and burial is at 1 p.m. at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Slidell, La.

Tolis coached the then-Pacers from 1980-82, leading the program to its first-ever 20-win season and NCAA Division-II Tournament appearance. Tolis ranks as the highest winning coach in program history in terms of winning percentage, as he went 32-25 (.561) in his two years at UT Martin.

Tolis, who had served as an assistant coach under Dale Brown at Louisiana State University for six years, was highly respected as a coach and recruiter prior to his appointment at UT Martin by Chancellor Charles E. Smith and athletics director Ray Mears.

Before his time at LSU, Tolis coached 13 seasons in high school, junior college and college – including a national championship at Indian River Junior College in Fort Pierce, Fla. in 1969. Tolis then was an assistant coach under Tom Wasdin at Jacksonville University from 1970-72, helping lead the team to a 22-4 record and NCAA Tournament berth in 1971.

Tolis joined the LSU staff in April 1974 and was named the national director of the LSU recruiting program. In 1976 and 1977 he helped bring top 10 recruiting classes that would eventually lead the Tigers to two Southeastern Conference championships and an NCAA Final Four in 1981.

In Tolis’ first season at the helm at UT Martin, he led the squad to five Gulf South Conference wins, which was the total of combined GSC wins the team had accumulated in the previous two seasons. Don Hubbard – who graduated as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 1,124 points – earned All-GSC honors in 1980-81 under Tolis.

The team took off in Tolis’ second season, setting a program-record for single-season overall wins (20) and GSC victories (nine). The team earned one of the program’s biggest wins at the time, a 65-41 drubbing of Mississippi State in Starkville on Dec. 12, 1981.

In the season’s 11 losses, only one loss was more than eight points, including an amazing seven losses by five points or less. Three of the team’s losses came to GSC rival Livingston by a combined eight points, including the GSC Tournament championship game. Even with the loss, the team advanced to the NCAA Division-II Tournament, defeating Central Missouri before falling to future OVC member Southeast Missouri by a 56-53 score.

Tolis’ second season also produced another school record, as the team landed two first-team All-GSC selections in Larry Brooks and Darrell Smith.

Born in New Britain, Conn., Tolis was an all-state player in high school and furthered his playing career at George Washington University, where he earned All-Southern Conference accolades as a center. He left George Washington to enlist in the Korean War, then resumed his playing career at Central Connecticut State in New Britain.

Tolis also served as head coach at the University of New Orleans from 1985-89 and was an assistant at Alabama. After leaving the coaching profession, Tolis was a teacher in the Jefferson Parish (La.) school system for 12 years before retiring in 2008.

Courtesy UT Martin Media Relations

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