Beloved Commodore Coach Roy Skinner passed away Oct. 25 of respiratory failure at Southern Hills Medical Center in Nashville. He was 80.
The Skinner years as men’s basketball coach spanned the ’60s and ’70s and were marked by major milestones and achievements as yet unequaled by his successors. He compiled a 278–135 record over 16 seasons, and was named SEC Coach of the Year four times: 1965, 1967, 1974 and 1976. The term “Memorial Magic” was added to the Vanderbilt lexicon during his tenure as the Commodores enjoyed an 81 percent home-court winning record.
Skinner arrived at Vanderbilt as an assistant to Coach Bob Polk in 1957 and took over the helm as head coach in 1961. Vanderbilt basketball became so popular that Memorial Gym was expanded from 6,200 seats at the start of his coaching stint to 15,000 by the end.
A native of Paducah, Ky., Skinner started his coaching career at Paducah Junior College, where he was also a player. He went on to play at, and earn a degree from, Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C. As Vanderbilt’s head coach he developed a reputation for being a canny recruiter of players whom other teams had overlooked, which was complemented by a coaching style that allowed each player to reach his potential. Even more significant, he is credited with breaking the color barrier in Southeastern Conference sports with the recruitment of Perry Wallace in 1967 as the league’s first African American basketball player.
Vanderbilt basketball ranked in the top 10 nationally eight times under Skinner’s watch, and his 1965 team reached the NCAA Elite Eight round, losing by two points to Michigan. He was inducted into the Vanderbilt Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.
He is survived by his wife, Nathleene (“Tootsie”), and several children.