UT Martin Basketball: Remembering Head Coach Anthony Stewart

The sudden passing of UT Martin’s Anthony Stewart has marked the end of a historic tenure – and what he leaves in its place is a successful legacy worth celebrating.

On Sunday, Nov. 15, the University of Tennessee at Martin announced the passing of head men’s basketball coach Anthony Stewart.  Stewart, who became the head coach of the Skyhawks in 2016 after two years as an assistant there, was 50.

The timing of this could not be any worse for the Skyhawks, who were hoping to resume practices soon after a false positive COVID-19 test brought a halt to basketball activities last Thursday.  UT Martin’s first game of the season – among those public, at least – is on Dec. 2 against Evansville.

Obviously, this is the least important thing right now.  College basketball mourns the loss of Stewart, who leaves behind his wife and three children.  His son Parker transferred to UT Martin in 2018 after starring as one of the best freshmen in the ACC at Pittsburgh a season prior – and was about to enter his junior season while playing for his father.

Stewart has been around the coaching block for almost the entirety of the millennium, with assistant coaching stops at Columbus State CC (2001-04), Long Beach State (2004-06), Wyoming (2007-11), Southern Illinois (2011-12), Ohio (2012-14), and UT Martin (2014-16), but his collegiate days can be traced back to his playing days at the University of Mount Union.

Stewart suited up for the Raiders from 1989-92, becoming just the 16th 1,000-point scorer in program history in his final season.  He currently ranks 27th in all-time scoring at Mount Union, amassing 1,086 points for his career.

While at Mount Union, Stewart was a two-time Most Valuable Player, all the while earning All-OAC (Ohio Athletic Conference) Honorable Mention accolades after a sophomore season where he scored 440 points – the second-highest output of any 1,000-point scorers’ sophomore year.  He also lettered in baseball for three years as a pitcher.

A two-year coaching stop at Long Beach State in the mid-2000s served as Stewart’s entry into Div. I coaching.  Stewart’s tutelage – which included tenures under NC State assistant Heath Schroyer at Wyoming and UT Martin, as well as current Boston College head coach Jim Christian at Ohio – proved successful for those programs, yielding a 175-173 overall record.

Stewart’s two years under Schroyer at UT Martin were two of the most successful seasons in program history.  In 2014-15, the Skyhawks won 21 games after just winning eight the year prior, and followed that up with 20 victories the following season.

Those two years were the first back-to-back 20-win seasons since 1981-83, and UT Martin reached its first-ever OVC Tournament championship game in 2016, falling to a Cinderella story in Austin Peay.  The year prior, the program earned its first-ever postseason victory – three of them, in fact – in the CIT, advancing to the Final Four.

After Schroyer left to accept an assistant coaching job at NC State, Stewart was tabbed as the tenth head coach in UT Martin history.  That decision proved to be wise immediately, as Stewart’s first season provided one of the greatest seasons in school history.

The Skyhawks captured 22 victories in 2016-17, equaling the school record (2008-09’s squad were 22-10) and breaking numerous single-season records in the process, including points (2,693), field goals (966), rebounds (1,312) and assists (555).  They again reached the OVC Tournament title game, falling to Jacksonville State this time.

Stewart was rightfully recognized for his first-year accomplishments, being selected as one of 21 finalists for the 2017 Ben Jobe National Coach of the Year Award, given annually to the top Div. I minority head coach.  His 22 wins were the third-highest among first-year head coaches across the division.

His following seasons did not yield 20-win seasons, but they did present significant success in various ways.  His second year produced four different players who collected weekly OVC accolades, tying the 2008-09 squad for the second-most in program history.  The following season, meanwhile, saw UT Martin pull off a victory over Eastern Illinois in the OVC Tournament.

The Skyhawks struggled a bit this past season, going 9-20 overall and 5-13 in the OVC, but Stewart and his squad had a number of positives this past season.  They featured three of the top ten leading scorers in the conference – Parker being one of them – and both he and teammate Quinton Dove were named to the All-OVC Second Team and All-OVC First Team, respectively – just the fourth time in school history that happened.

Despite graduating Dove, the Skyhawks were heading into this season with optimism.  Parker opted out of the NBA draft, returning to UT Martin for another shot in his junior season, and Stewart and his staff were bringing in a highly-touted class of eight recruits.

Stewart was necessarily instrumental in building the winning foundation at UT Martin that brought the program three of its most successful seasons ever.  He was a part of the history – and it would not have been possible without him there.

And now, he leaves the Skyhawks with the blueprints to reclaim the prosperity that he brought them initially.  This, obviously, was not how any of this was supposed to go – but Stewart will leave behind a legacy worth being recognized, and one that should be celebrated.

Stewart was respected nationally as a coach – deservedly so – but he also represented UT Martin as a whole.  He served as an admirable leader and honorable figure – UT Martin’s press release is proof of that:

He was one of 20 keynote speakers at the 2018 Collegiate Coaching Consortium presented collaboratively by AthleticDirectorU and the National Association of Basketball Coaches at the NCAA Final Four in San Antonio, Texas. For the past three seasons, he has also represented the Skyhawks at the American Cancer Society’s Coaches vs. Cancer Tennessee Tip-Off Reception, held in Nashville. In January of 2019, Stewart was the keynote speaker at UT Martin’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Breakfast event held on campus.

There is no word yet on who will fill Stewart’s shoes, and that is certainly understandable.  The most important thing right now is remembering and honoring Stewart and his legacy, with UT Martin hosting a memorial ceremony this coming Sunday.

This is, undoubtedly and obviously, beyond crushing for Stewart’s wife, children, and those involved with his program.  There are no words that can encapsulate or heal the grief they are all going through – but one thing is for certain: they should all be proud of Anthony Stewart – as a husband, a father, and a coach.