When Larry Tidwell graduated from Sanger in 1971, the future was wide open for the multi-sport star. No one, including the young Tidwell, could predict what the next 40-plus years would bring.
Tidwell headed to Fort Worth and TCU, where he played football and basketball, but after one year he transferred to Austin College in Sherman. Over the next three years, he lettered in football and baseball three times and twice in track before graduating in 1975. The following year he earned his master’s degree from Austin.
He then started a whirlwind coaching career that includes over 800 victories in football, volleyball, girls and boys basketball, baseball and seven seasons as a head coach in the collegiate ranks with a record of 142-82 and a .634 winning percentage.
Tidwell, who just completed his first season as head women’s basketball coach at Texas-Pan American, returned to Austin College recently and received the Coach Joe Spencer Award for Meritorious Service and Lifetime Achievement in Coaching. He was inducted into the Austin College Hall of Honor as an athlete in 2004 and in 2010 won the Austin College Kedric Couch Alumni Coach of the Year award after leading Lamar to the NCAA tournament in his first season with the Beaumont school.
He is only the second recipient of all three honors from Austin.
“Being honored by Austin College with the Joe Spencer Award is very, very special,” Tidwell said. “There have been a lot of great men and women who have preceded me on this honor, and to be recognized with those names is a very humbling experience.
“To be honored three different times by AC, it indicates that the assistant coaches, student-athletes and the support staff all combined for the teamwork to get the job done.”
Tidwell’s coaching career began at Frisco, where he eventually became head football coach in 1978 and remained there until heading to Schulenburg in 1984. It was at Schulenburg where his career path suddenly took a new direction. He went from football to becoming the head girls basketball coach in what he calls — and his son Mike agrees — “the best move of my life.”
“I was coaching football and my sons were playing, and that put a lot of stress on all of us,” Larry Tidwell said. “We had a lot of quiet time around the dinner table during that time.”
After the move to coaching girls and women, Tidwell spent eight years at Schulenburg before moving to the college ranks, first at Baylor (1992-98) and then TCU (1999-2007) as a highly regarded assistant.
Lamar hired Tidwell in the spring of 2007 to take over a program that hadn’t posted a winning record since the 1994-95 season. In six seasons with the Lady Cardinals, Tidwell led them to a winning record each year, including four 20-win seasons.
During the 2009-10 season, Lamar was 26-8 overall and finished as Southland Conference co-champion. The Lady Cardinals won the Southland tournament and earned a berth in the NCAA tournament. Tidwell was named the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches coach of the year.
“All of these awards and honors are nice and I appreciate them all, but it is really all about your players,” Tidwell said. “I’ve been extremely fortunate to have some great players on the court, in the classroom and in the community.”
UTPA hired Tidwell in April 2013, and in his first year the Broncs tied the program wins record with 14 and conference wins mark with eight. The team was 14-16 overall and 8-8 in Western Athletic Conference play.
“They haven’t won much around here and we’re just trying to build on the limited success we had last year,” Tidwell said. “We’ve got our five starters back from last season, but we’ve got a talented group of freshmen coming in and they will push our returners.
“We’re all very eager to build and improve what we’ve started here, but we know it isn’t going to be easy. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”
The nonconference slate Tidwell has put together will test the Broncs. UTPA has road games at Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor and a trip to DePaul, where it will face Texas A&M and New Mexico.